Short but Sweet

The Fat Man's Wife 5 - courtesy Simon AnnandCanal Cafe Theatre presents The Fat Man’s Wife by Tennessee Williams

It is always intriguing to hear about a “new” play from a celebrated dead playwright.  Although written in 1938, The Fat Man’s Wife remained unproduced throughout Williams’ lifetime, having its first staging in New York in 2004.  This is its first UK production.  Despite the excitement of the new, however, there is also slight suspicion – why would the work of an extremely successful and well-regarded writer be so neglected?  It was therefore with curiosity mixed with apprehension that I arrived at the Canal Cafe on Thursday night.

I had never been to this theatre before, but from previous knowledge I had been expecting an arrangement of tables and chair, café- style.  However, the company had decided to perform in traverse, which was an excellent choice, as it really made the best of the space available.  Incorporating an actual window into the set, rather than covering it up was also a good idea.

I was first drawn to Williams’ work after seeing a film version of The Glass Menagerie, featuring Karen Allen as Laura, and this has remained my favourite of his plays.  The Fat Man’s Wife appears to have many similarities with the story of Shakespeare’s sister, in that they are both slightly gentler than much of the writer’s other work, while still containing the sense of claustrophobia and restriction that characterises the majority of his plays.

All three actors did a wonderful job.  Damien Hughes, as Dennis Merriwether, conveyed the exuberance and indestructibility of youth and the frustration when he realises that eagerness and enthusiasm isn’t going to be enough, in a lively, engaging way.  Emma Taylor (Vera) had our sympathy as the middle-aged woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who nevertheless is too scared, or too realistic, to escape.  We could feel her pain, and, even more, her weariness.  Although his part was small, Richard Stephenson Winter, still managed to portray Joe as a figure to be pitied, a victim of his own appetites, and made Vera’s decision to stay with him believable.  The play was ably directed by Russell Lucas, with assistance from Anne Harris.

Without knowing the background of this play, however, it comes across as the first act of a two act play, with the second act missing.  The ending is abrupt, and it feels as if the characters could have done with a lot more development.  But once you take into account the fact that it was one of Tennessee William’s earlier pieces of writing, and look at it as a sort of rehearsal for his later works, it becomes a fascinating piece of theatre, well worth the price of admission.

The Fat Man’s wife is running Thursday – Sunday at the Canal Cafe Theatre, Little Venice until 2 March, Sundays at 7pm, all other shows at 7.30pm.  For tickets and more information, please visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.  Picture by Simon Annand.

Mary Tynan

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From Stage to Page

It's a Desperate Life - cover imageIt’s a Desperate Life by Peter Hammond

I was tempted to call this piece “It’s a Desperate Book,” just for fun.  But it would have been misleading, because it’s not a desperate book, unless you mean desperately good, desperately funny, or desperately hard to put down.

Frankie Flynn, the book’s main character, first appeared in a play called Quare Times.  In its first full production, I was delighted to be cast in the role of Susan, and I happily described the play to anyone who asked as “a Dublin version of Alf Garnett crossed with a lesbian version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, with me playing Sidney Poitier.”  I did not know at the time that Quare Times would be just the first of a series, and that Frankie would go on to have many more adventures.

Peter Hammond, who was at that time the director of the London Irish Centre in Camden, went on to write several more plays in the series, and after the first production, the role of Frankie was always played by Owen Nolan, to whom (along with the author’s father) this book is dedicated.  Owen contributed a lot to the development of the character, and will always be the definitive Frankie Flynn.

What Peter has done with this book is to take the characters and events from these plays, expand them, link them together, and transform them into a well-written comic novel.  The first-person narrative gives an entirely different feel to the main character, and we see the other people in the world of the fictional Dublin district, the Daymo, through his eyes.  All the characters are well delineated, and very funny, in their own right, and the book is full of hilarious lines, such as “Ya’d lick it (beer) off a scabby leg” – Peggy (his wife) talking to Frankie.

The novel has a softer, more relaxed feel than the plays: tending to be slightly less uproarious and more gently amusing.  That said, it also has more of a roller-coaster feel, as the main character plunges from one situation to another.  Hearing the stories through Frankie’s words, and using the through story of a proposed move to the suburbs brings the disparate stories into a coherent whole.  Strangely, I find myself reminded of Keith Waterhouse’s equally charismatic character, Billy Liar.

This is an excellent first novel, which I predict will be but the first of many by this talented writer.  It’d be a desperate shame not to read it.

You can buy It’s a Desperate Life online at http://peterhammondauthor.com, and you can read Frankie Flynn’s blog at http://www.frankieflynn.blogspot.co.uk.

Mary Tynan

 

Owen Clinton 27 March 1950 – 18 January 2014

The death occurred on Saturday, 18 January 2014 in St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, of Owen Joseph Clinton (stage name Owen Nolan), late of Islington, North London.  A celebration of his life was held on 28 January 2014.  He is buried in Islington Cemetery.

I first met Owen in 2009, when we were cast together in a production of Julie Sibbons’ The Shoes at the London Irish Centre.  I was immediately struck by both his professionalism and his friendly, straightforward manner.  This initial impression blossomed into a friendship which I came to treasure over the time of our (too-brief) acquaintanceship.

Owen was born in Dublin and lived there until he was four years old, growing up in Manchester before moving to London, where he pursued a successful career in education.  He had several different roles in the field, including lecturer, head of department and even OFSTED inspector.  Education’s loss was entertainment’s gain, when, after taking early retirement, Owen trained as an actor at the Poor School in King’s Cross.  I had the privilege of playing his wife in his first professional production after leaving drama school (the aforementioned The Shoes with London Irish Theatre) and we worked together many times over the years (six months after playing my husband, he was playing my granddad).  Perhaps Owen’s most iconic role was as the definitive Frankie Flynn in Peter Hammond’s series of comedies about a likeable Dubliner, but Irish plays were far from the whole of his career.  His range was very wide –  encompassing opera, Shakespeare, and performances at the Old Vic in Inherit the Wind.  Owen’s take on Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell was a joy to watch, and you can read reviews of his performances in As You Like It and Poe: Macabre Resurrections elsewhere on this site.  Owen was also a talented musician and singer, performing Irish folk music with a couple of bands, most recently Chief O’Neill.

Owen’s impact was far greater than a professional one however.  He was a wonderful friend, family man and genuinely good human being.  Speaking for myself, I will remember the man who spent the night in hospital with me after I was hit by a car and drove me home the next morning; who came to see my plays and saw me safely home afterwards, and made me welcome in the home he shared with Mary, his partner of 15 years, and his sister Dora.  He looked after his mother in her final illness, and cared for his sister for much of his life.  Owen spent his last days in St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, where he was lovingly watched over by Mary and his brother Niall.  Predeceased by his brother Alan, Owen is mourned by his partner Mary, his sister Dora, his brothers Niall and Denis, his sisters-in-law Maggie and Alison, his niece Katherine and nephew Kevin, his cousins, family members and friends whose lives were touched by his.  In the words of his brother Niall, “the world is a better place now, because my brother lived in it.”

Ní bhfeicimid a leithéid arís ann.

Mary Tynan

The Springheel Saga

shj_cryptofevil_large_sml_jackWireless Theatre Company have contacted me with the exciting information that Series Two of the popular Springheel Saga, entitled The Legend of Springheel’d Jack, will be released online on 6 December 2013.  In the meantime, here is a review of Series One to whet your appetites.

The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack

Wireless Theatre Company’s take on the Spring-Heeled Jack story is an atmospheric, exhilarating, beguiling piece of radio drama.  The writers have taken the known facts of the case and expertly weaved them with a story of devil worship that appears to pay homage to “The Daemons” (the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story from the 1970s).   Doctor Who influences are everywhere, from the opening music (which also strangely reminds me of “Dallas”), to Julian Glover’s participation as Lord Wayland, to the fact that the lead character is called Jonah Smith.  The eagle-eared among you will spot other parallels as you listen, but I wouldn’t want to give everything away!

Gareth Parker and Robert Valentine’s storytelling is excellent.  The dialogue holds your interest and manages to elucidate the plot expertly, whilst simultaneously depicting and delineating the various characters in a sympathetic manner.  The writing is of a very high standard throughout, with some marvellous lines and phrases which stick in the memory – my favourite being “reform bills that pass like ghosts through Parliament’s bladder!”

The writing is greatly assisted by the sound in all three episodes.  Both Francesco Quadraroupolo’s music and Andrew Swann’s sound effects help to build the atmosphere to the point where you can almost see what is going on.  I could easily imagine myself in Victorian London, and the devil worshipping ceremonies were particularly effective.  Of course, this is also largely due to the quality of the acting; the way that everything is edited together (Andrew Swann again) and the overall production values of the serial.

With a cast of 23, it is impossible for me to mention everyone, suffice it to say that all should be extremely proud of their performances.  Christopher Finney and Matthew Jure gave strong, believable, sympathetic performances as Constables Jonah Smith and Toby Hooks respectively, as did Jessica Dennis in the lead female role of Charlotte Fitzrandolph.  All of the female characters were played very well – I particularly like landlady Mrs Bairstow, played in an amusing and entertaining manner by Lizzie Goodall.  Julian Glover was a marvellously nefarious villain, and Jack Bowman did a wonderful job of portraying the evil and menacing Mr Chough.

The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack is in three episodes: The Ghost of Clapham Common; The Crypt of Evil and The Face of the Fiend.  Each of these can be downloaded free from www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk.  Further episodes are promised, which I, for one, shall certainly be on the lookout for!

Mary Tynan

First published on Blogtor Who.

Don’t Let it Pass you By

Arion Productions Ltd presents Passing By by Martin Sherman at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Passing By begins, deceptively, with a one-night stand.  A one-night stand that turns into eight weeks and becomes the substance of the play.  Thrown together by circumstances, the two main characters have intensive intimacy forced upon them, which leads to both comic moments and personal revelations.  It is almost like a bubble of unreality, in which normal life is suspended for a period of time.  Naturally, all such bubbles eventually burst.

Toby and Simon meet at the cinema, and then return to Toby’s apartment.  Simon has just arrived in New York from Miami Beach.  The following morning we hear that Toby is about to leave for Paris, so their relationship seems doomed to be a brief one.  Nevertheless, Simon turns up at Toby’s place of work (a wine shop) several days later, and a subsequent discovery of mutual illness, coupled with the fact that Simon has nowhere else to stay, causes them to nurse each other back to health over the next 8 weeks.

This is a well-written, carefully-structured, balanced play.  It has overtones of the type of New York humour found in Woody Allen or Neil Simon, and the contrast between James Cartwright’s portrayal of Olympic diver Simon, and Rik Makarem’s New York Jew Toby adds to the richness of the mix.  Simon is laid-back, confident, physically fit and has never had a day’s illness in his life (until now), whereas Toby is nervous, neurotic and seemingly hypochondriac at the start of the play.

Both actors filled their roles extremely well.  I couldn’t fault the accents, and James Cartwright’s initially relaxed Simon was a good foil to Rik Makarem’s anxious Toby.  However, it was as the play progressed and the roles reversed that the actors came into their own, and the interplay between them was excellent.  The juxtaposition of characters was what made the play, and, to me, was reminiscent of many wonderful similar stories: The Odd Couple; Prick Up Your Ears and even Ernie and Bert!

The resemblance to both the Joe Orton story and the Sesame Street roommates was enhanced by the set (presumably designed by Philip Lindley).  The majority of the play is set in Toby’s bedroom/kitchenette, which is a very good simulation of a 1970s room, with nylon bedspreads, padded headboards and an old-style black dial telephone.  The only false note was a television remote control of a type not in common use until the early 90s – a bit of an anachronism for 1972.  The three other short scenes – in the wine shop; at the cinema; on a bench – were very cleverly fitted into the main set.

The interesting thing about watching a play which was actually written in the early 70s, rather than one written today looking back at the period, is that there is no benefit of hindsight.  There is no dramatic irony, apart from that which the audience themselves experience, and the writer had no knowledge of the vast changes which were to take place in the lives of gay men in New York and elsewhere over the next couple of decades.  This gives a purity to the piece, almost as if we were looking through a window in time and space, that you just don’t get with retrospective writing.  For this, and for many other reasons, I would recommend you catch this play – as it is passing by.

Passing by is at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden until 30th November, nightly at 7.30, tickets £14 (£12 concessions).  For booking or more information visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk or telephone 020 7240 6283.  Photos by Scott Rylander.

Mary Tynan

Passing By

Provocative and Razor Sharp Fleabag Punches Way Above it’s Apparent Means

Phoebe Waller-Bridges’s Fleabag, from DryWrite Theatre Company at the Soho Theatre, is a confessional stream of consciousness which combines humour and pathos to elicit a powerful effect.

Fleabag tells her story in a way that is both highly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. Despite the potentially sordid nature of her revelations, the intimacy and blunt honesty engages the audience, both male and female, drawing our reviewers and at least outwardly the majority of audience into identifying with the character and remarkably even being supportive of or at least understanding of her sometimes bizarre and certainly desperate actions. ‘Raise your hand if you would trade 5 years of your life for the so-called ‘perfect body.’ Fleabag and her sister would, but are alone in their opinion in a room of 400 women, in a moment which grabs the audience’s sympathy. She follows through on her intense yearnings with assorted characters including an elderly cockney customer at her café and a stranger met on a train. The power in her performance is apparent in the fact that we feel we understand her desperation. We don’t immediately assume she needs psychiatric care or that the elderly chap she shocks to is heading off to report her to the police. Something in her painful honesty convinces us that she will have touched them similarly. There is nothing comfortable about this piece, and yet the laughter comes from a place of genuine empathy, as does our compassion during the more poignant moments.

This is a one-woman show, which is stripped back to the bare essentials, thus allowing the smallest of movements, gestures and facial expressions to assume significance. Phoebe’s performance was matter of fact, yet moving, and her timing was excellent. She also interacted very naturally with recorded sound. The narrative flowed seamlessly from hilarious beginning to an almost tragic ending. She seemed to be hitting at aspects of the human condition that are normally hidden by social taboos, and the bravery of the performance appeared to be answered by the audience’s response. Waller-Bridges wrote and performed this; maybe that’s why she presents it with exactly the right level of blunt honesty.

Despite the previously mentioned use of recorded voices, Phoebe does voice many of the other characters in the story herself, including her sister, her father and her Australian boss, demonstrating the breadth of her acting range. The play has a multi-media aspect, utilising mobile phones in different and imaginative ways! Sound effects also add to the overall experience.

One small drawback to the evening’s entertainment was the seating at the venue. Sitting at the end of the third row, the visibility was very poor, and constantly moving about on one’s seat and moving one’s head and shoulders about can detract from the enjoyment of a performance. That said, however, this is a very good show, to be highly recommended. If you are looking for an evening of smutty talk, laughter and life affirmation, plus a hearty dose of honesty, this fits the bill.

Fleabag has now finished its run at the Soho Theatre. For more information, visit www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Ian Macnaughton

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

As it’s now less than two weeks till opening night, I wanted to let everyone know about Belfast Girl: A Love Story, from London Irish Theatre.

Set in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Girl: A Love Story considers the human dimension of the Northern Ireland question, and uncovers the personal costs of political struggle.  Annie is the Belfast Girl of the title: a working class protestant who grew up during the troubles.  Her marriage to Orangeman Billy is on the rocks, and an unexpected visit from English Catholic Dave, her childhood sweetheart who she hasn’t seen since her teens, brings matters to a head in an explosive manner.  The play is written and directed by John Dunne, and features Mary Tynan (me) as Annie and Ian Macnaughton as Dave.

The story of Dave and Annie has been through several incarnations over the years.  The first, titled Belfast, premiered in the 1990s and featured the couple as teenagers, with Tanya Franks as Annie.  I become involved during the second incarnation, Belfast Boy, which was written to be the second play in a double bill with Geraldine Aron’s A Galway Girl, touring in 2009/10.  This was a two hander, with the older Annie and Dave meeting again after many years.  Belfast Girl followed in the summer of 2010, and I played Annie for the second time in a completely new work which also featured Annie’s brother and husband.  This play has recently had a Belfast run, in which the story was expanded to include two further characters.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story returns to the two-handed format, but with a twist.  There may be only two actors, but there are more than two characters!  I’m really looking forward to playing Annie again, and would like to invite readers of Notes From Xanadu to join the audience.  Previous versions Belfast and A Belfast Boy have both received critical acclaim from the press, and Belfast was a Time Out Critic’s Choice.

“John Dunne’s sensitive squint at the Ulster legacy adapts well to the stage.  What’s impressive about the rapid stucco of tense, bite-sized scenes is that they’re eloquently counterpointed by a driving commitment to character development.”  Time Out

“A sharply realistic play still willing to speak for love, however guarded, as the central human value.” City Limits

 “Fantastically gripping.”  What’s On

 “Moving stories in an Irish odyssey.”  Camden New Journal

Belfast Girl: A Love Story is playing on both sides of the Thames this Summer.  It opens on 20August 2013 at the London Theatre, New Cross, running nightly at 8pm until 24 August, with a Sunday matinee on 25 August at 4pm.  It then runs from 27 to 29 August nightly at 7.30pm at the Babble Jar, Stoke Newington and from 30 August to 1 September at the Precinct Theatre, Islington, with all performances there also at 7.30pm.  Tickets can be bought on the door, from the London Theatre Box Office (www.thelondontheatre.com), and from www.irish-theatre.com .

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

 

Adopt an Orchard

orchardAs someone who loves apples, I was intrigued to hear about Octavia’s Orchard, a new green space commissioned as part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Neighbourhood.  Inspired by the work of Victorian social reformer and founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill (1838-1912), it has been  designed by architectural practice What if: projects, in partnership with the National Trust’s London Project and Southbank Centre in order to highlight the continued lack of access to green space in high density housing areas and open up the opportunities these neglected, forgotten and unloved spaces in the city can offer to urban communities.

The orchard is currently located on the Southbank Centre’s Mandela Walk, but, London urban community groups are being invited to take home part of the orchard,  Each of the four inner-city housing estates chosen will take home eight apple trees and one of the benches, to form the nucleus of their own permanent orchards.  The four successful applicants will also be twinned with four of the National Trust properties – Fenton House and Garden, Osterley Park and House, Morden Hall Park, Sutton House and Breakers Yard – and will receive support and training from their expert gardeners.  Planting will take place at the beginning of September.

Interested groups wishing to apply should email octavia@what-if.info.  For more information, visit the What if: website at http://www.what-if.info/Octavias_Orchard.html.

By notesfromxanadu Posted in Features

Well Worth a Visit

Theatre Collection presents The Visit at The Lord Stanley, Camden

The Visit opens with optimism: the citizens of Gullen are looking forward to the arrival of one of their own and hoping she will spread some of her good fortune around her old town.  But, immediately upon her arrival, it becomes apparent that Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world, is used to always getting what she wants – and what she wants now is murder.

Nicholas Humphrey’s thought-provoking direction builds a sense of menace right from the outset, using sound, movement and, in particular, repetition to contribute to the aura of unavoidable impending doom.  The characters of the blind eunuchs (Christopher Dowling and Carlos Mapano) add to this considerably, as does the slightly unusual use of physical theatre, when the actors’ bodies transform but their faces remain very much in character.

Madlena Nedeva, as Claire, gave a credible portrayal of wealth and world-weariness, and Danny Reyntiens, as her old lover Ill, was consistently watchable throughout, especially approaching the end as he became resigned to his fate.  Fiona Watson’s Teacher was particularly sympathetically played, and I would love to have seen more of Erin Siobhan, whose various parts were short but significant.  For my money, the best female performance came from Penelope Day, who maintained a marvellous contrast between the Police Officer and Matilda Ill.

Although there was comedy in the play from the outset (“my father built those public toilets”), particularly in Clive Alexander’s quirky portrayal of husbands 7, 8 and 9, it was mostly overshadowed by the growing sense of claustrophobia.  The main exception was the scene with the reporters in Act II, where Ian MacNaughton excelled.  In contrast to his serious and slightly macabre portrayal of the ex-judge in Act I, Ian’s reporter was fun and lively in a game-show host way, using vocal range, movement and a brilliantly expressive face to give us the funniest scene in the play – just moments before its sinister denouement.

Overall, this is a very good production.  The tension builds exponentially and ends in a dramatic climax.  Nothing is overdone or overstated, and the audience leaves with plenty to talk about!  Try and catch one of the last three performances if you possibly can.

The Visit is at The Lord Stanley, 51 Camden Park Road, NW1 9BH on 14, 20 and 21 May at 7.30pm.  For tickets visit www.theatrecollection.net or call 07966 597190.

Mary Tynan

Pop Goes the Tunnel

Don PasqualePopup Opera Present Don Pasquale at The Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe

If I were the vindictive type, I’d use this review to get revenge for being shot in the eye with a water pistol!  But I’m not and I won’t.  Instead I will say that Popup Opera gave their usual superb performance: something I have come to expect after attending only one of their previous shows.

The company have become adept at adapting to different spaces and maximising the advantages of each situation.  The tunnel shaft at the Brunel Museum is completely unlike the small room in a private club where I watched L’elisir D’amore. Reached by crawling through a hole and climbing down a scaffold, this cathedral-like space with its marvellous acoustics allowed the cast to give full reign to their vocal talents.  Raúl Baglietto gave a solid professional vocal performance as Don Pasquale, and, as the main character, did a wonderful job of holding the show together.  Visually, he portrayed the Don’s emotions in a very realistic manner, despite the overall comic feel of the piece.  Cliff Zammit Stevens’ (Ernesto) tenor was once again piercingly sweet, and his exuberance as the young man in love was able to be expressed fully in this much larger space.  Ricardo Panela’s performance was even more powerful than in L’elisir D’amore, and, as the doctor whose machinations basically create the story, he was both lively and amusing.  Clementine Lovell (Norina) also used the bigger space to put her physical comedy skills to good use, and as the only woman she stole the show vocally.  Her exquisite soprano seemed to soar to the top of tunnel and encircle the audience, like a nightingale’s song suddenly appearing out of the stillness.

The cast utilised the whole of the space to implement their silent-movie comedia style, which was very effective and greatly enhanced by Harry Percival’s slick and witty captions.  This focus on the physical comedy allowed Director Darren Royston to take a much larger role in the proceedings, playing several roles, all hilarious.  We even got to hear him sing as the Notary, albeit only a couple of notes at a time.

I will leave the final words to another audience member who was attending her first ever opera:  “I thought I was going to like it, but I absolutely loved it.  I want to go again soon.  It was amazing!”

You can catch Don Pasquale as it pops up at various venues throughout May, or see the company in their summer tour of Rita/La Serva Padrona.  For more information visit popupopera.co.uk.

Mary Tynan

Don Pasquale