Thursday, 29 December 2011


As a pre-Christmas treat we went back to see the great Uncaged Monkeys team at the Hammersmith Apollo on 14th December in A Night of 200 Billion Stars. This was perfect timing, as the day before had been Cern’s moment in the limelight with their hints of the Higgs particle. I was a bit worried that there would be a bit too much repetition from the show we had seen in May, with many of the same names appearing, but this was a whole new geek-fest.

The preshow of music and powerpointy images was suitably interrupted by a computer error message, and then Robin Ince opened the show and performed his compere role beautifully.

Things got off to a good start for me with Simon Singh illustrating how the people that think there are messages encoded in the Bible have misunderstood things a bit. My favourite bit though was when he showed us his own Enigma machine in action, taking it apart to show us how it works, then putting it all back together and doing some more typing, with an explanation of how the codes work and can be broken.

Ben Goldacre had a fairly short and angry slot for this show, talking about publication bias and what he sees as a massive medical scandal. The next big highlight was Adam Rutherford’s video tribute to all of the Space Shuttle missions, played very loudly. I saw one of the shuttle launches in the late 1990s, and it brought back some of the exhilaration I felt then. Here it is – play it loud for best effect.

After the interval we had the twitter Q&A which produced this lovely image of the oldest and geekiest boyband in history

We then got on to Brian Cox who, in honour of the Cern events had ditched his planned lectures to replace them with an explanation of what the findings could mean. This he did admirably, so that at the end I understood what the Higgs particle does, and why it is important. Unfortunately, every time I moved my head from then on, bits of understanding leaked out of my ears, so I’m afraid all I can tell you now is that you need to get Brian to explain it to you, and it will make perfect sense. We also got a skype link with a couple of the scientists in the Cern canteen. Hearing the Hammersmith Apollo applauding scientists was a lovely geeky thrill.

Tim Minchin took the last slot and performed a new song Woody Allen Jesus written for the Jonathon Ross show, then produced Ed Sheeran to sing Prejudice with him

The evening ended with Brian Cox accompanying Tim Minchin to White Wine in the Sun which sent us out feeling suitably mellow. We had a lovely time and it was a joy to find so many other people finding the ideas around science inspiring.

A few days later, there was a mini twitter storm when Tim Minchin’s Woody Allen Jesus song was cut from Jonathon Ross’s Christmas show.

I don’t think that the song was offensive, although not one of his best, and if it was cut to avoid a Daily Mail storm, then ITV was truly cowardly. Coincidentally, but with perfect timing, I happened to be reading Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods over Christmas, and think that maybe he has the right attitude.

Perhaps it is time to relax a bit, so here is Tim Minchin giving a sentimental explanation of why he loves Christmas, accompanied by Prof Brian Cox. Joyful, a bit cheesy and contains no gods unless you count sex-gods.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Jumpy at the Royal Court

I knew it was coming so there were no excuses for the fact that this was sold out completely by the time I got around to checking for tickets. The only option was the Monday ticket scrum, where a chunk of the tickets are sold for a song, or more accurately, a tenner. I sat poised at my computer at 9am, frantically clicked the links and after half a dozen failed attempts as someone else got there before me, I ended up with back row balcony tickets. I then had to wait for 20 minutes for the payment system to catch up, but I returned from my internet hunt proudly brandishing my booking reference number. The thrill of the chase without getting cold or wet.

The actual play is a romp through a female mid-life crisis, painfully funny, but with real emotional truth, played expertly by the amazing Tamsin Greig as Hilary. She seems to have funny bones, being able to naturally balance pure, laugh out loud comedy with sensitivity, so that by the end, I really cared about what happened next. Doon Mackichan's comic clowning was a triumph, although, as she showed us tiny hints of something deeper, it made me feel that I would like to see what she could do with something more serious.

Bel Powley, as the teenage daughter Tilly, had the attitude just right and some very sharp lines*, but was a bit one-dimensional, irritatingly shouty all the time. Although, for getting under the skin of what it feels like to be the parent of a bolshy teenager, that may have been the point.

As a study of middle-aged marriage, it felt spot on too, so a bit of a masterclass from April De Angelis in how to do falling-down-funny but meaningful theatre.

Tamsin Greig was undoubtedly the star of the piece, and deservedly so. A dame-in-waiting?

*'What did you wear?' ...(pause for look of dawning horror)....'You didn't wear your jeans?'

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

One Man, Two Guvnors

Well I had a bit of a palaver getting the tickets for this, as they were officially sold out, so finding a day when I could get up at 5 to queue for day tickets was a bit tricky. The day finally arrived, I got up well before dawn, logged in to my computer whilst drinking my wake-up coffee to find that a large number of returns had been added to the website. So, if I was prepared to pay four times the day seat price I would be guaranteed a seat and a couple more hours back in bed. Obviously I paid up.

The play is about to transfer to the West End, and deservedly so. It makes full use of its Commedia dell’Arte roots, managing to give everyone a roaringly good time whilst clearly and intelligently pointing out what it is up to. At one point my face ached with laughing, not something that happens often enough at the theatre. James Corden appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself and Oliver Chris gave him a great double act partner. All the performances were spot on, and the ad libs and improvisation were so seamlessly handled it wasn’t always clear whether they were scripted to appear off the cuff. Clever, whilst making sure no funny bone was left untickled, this was a slick and perfectly executed event from beginning to end.

I can’t leave this without mentioning the brilliant pastiche 60’s music from Grant Olding and ‘The Craze’ and the musical ‘turns’ by the cast, used to smooth each scene change. Oliver Chris’s musical number was perhaps my favourite, although Daniel Rigby’s acoustic chest beating came a very close second.

I bet this will run for years, so probably no need to hurry, but this cast is fantastic so definitely one to catch if you can.

Top Girls

I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the first act of Top Girls. A Thatcherite career woman (Suranne Jones) having dinner in a swanky 80’s restaurant with a female Pope, Isabella Bird and a range of other historical characters.

Funny and moving as well as bewildering, we hear their stories and learn about their various sacrifices. So, at the first interval we spent some time trying to get to grips with things, despite the poor light and lack of reading glasses which meant I couldn’t cheat by reading the programme. I needn’t have worried as the second and third acts made things crystal clear. Classic political theatre, with the points hammered home, it was still satisfyingly thought provoking, and with great performances from the ensemble cast who each took a range of complementary roles. Written and set in the eighties, the most striking things were sadly, not how much has changed, but how little.

Not one to go for if you are planning an escapist cheery girls night out, but certainly one to make you pause and think a bit. I’d be taking a daughter if I had one, although perhaps, thinking about it, it would be more useful to take my sons.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

With a cast like this it really shouldn’t fail, but of course you can never be sure, so I am glad to report that this was a great night out as anticipated.

Not the deepest version I have ever seen, but for laughs, one of the best. The double act of David Tennant and Catherine Tate certainly paid off, and Tennant’s undoubted comic abilities meant that he shone, and probably would have done so regardless of the golf buggy, slapstick and lacy tights. It's also good to see Catherine Tate coming into her own as an actor, and although she has a way to go before the television stereotyping is left behind, I think she has a lot of potential for more serious stuff if she wants it.

There have been a few criticisms, mostly based around the populism of this version, and particularly the verse speaking, where the laughs seem more important than the sense, but I think the purists are missing the point. As one of the original romantic comedies it seems a bit churlish to grumble about a version that focuses on the froth.

That doesn’t mean that the problematic Don John plot wasn’t dealt with head on though. By leaving us in no doubt about what Claudio has seen, the showdown in the church sat better than some other versions, although it still jars a bit. The introduction of a mother for Hero was less effective though. It didn’t really seem to make much difference to me, apart from to make the feeble interventions in the abortive wedding seem even more feeble. It also downgraded the friendship between Beatrice and Hero, which made the ‘kill Claudio’ scene even more unexpected.

But, these are tiny gripes for what was a brilliant example of how to do joyful and fun theatre. ‘Glee does Shakespeare’? Yes. But did it capture the essence of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’? Yes, it did.

Although painfully expensive at £61 per ticket, I think this was actually worth every penny, and the Lily Savage wig and inventive use of paint will keep me going for some time.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Rocket to the Moon

I have a lovely 'I told you so' glow after seeing Jessica Raine delivering a storming performance as Cleo, opposite Joseph Millson in Rocket to the Moon at the Lyttelton.

Keeley Hawes was replaced by Rendah Heywood for this performance, and although she did well, I think we may have lost some of the extra frisson that the similarities in physical form and apparent fragilities between the two female leads may have brought to the piece.

Millson was totally believable as the man caught between his dreams and reality, and the other characters with their different quiet desperations were all played perfectly. Raine though, caught exactly the mixture of vulnerable but vampish girl/woman, like an early Marilyn Monroe caught between the desires of men and what she wants to become.

Loved it!

The Cherry Orchard

Despite my best efforts I find it a bit difficult to find the laughs in Chekhov, but decided on the spur of the moment to give the latest version at the Olivier a try, especially as there were front row day seats available.

The production sits a bit out of its time, with telephones and electricity pylons decorating the set, and it sort of brought the play forward to a post revolutionary time, rather than the pre-revolutionary era in which it was written. It helped to create the feeling of a group of people out of synch with their times, floating through the world on a haze of orchards, borrowed money and pale linen.

The text had been brought up to date for this production, and although it occasionally jarred, it did bring the humour to the fore, and clarified the caricatures a bit. The frocks were lovely and I spent quite a few minutes admiring the cut and fabrics, particularly in the overlong scene in the gardens.

Zoe Wanamaker did strike a few classic tragic Chekhovian poses, but overall was quite restrained in the dramatics, focusing instead on the determinedly unworldly partygirl nature of Ranyevskaya. Some favourites were James Laurenson as the brother just making the best of things, and Tim McMullan as a scrounging landowner down on his luck.

Kenneth Cranham stole the show though with the excellent ending.

Uncaged Monkeys

Completely sold out, even in Basingstoke, this was a bit of a triumphal tour for the forces of science and thinking things through properly. On the bill were the perpetually smiley Prof Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre and Robin Ince and more. Each presented their party trick lecture, and coupled with a Q&A session, very entertaining it was too, even when Brian Cox used a projection of a Guardian poster to illustrate the miniscule-ness of science funding in the uk.

Being in a room where everyone was in favour of science was a bit like a prayer meeting for atheists and I, for one, would be happy to sign up to this particular cult.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


I didn't get around to posting this while it was still on, but one of the highlights of my theatre year so far.

I faffed around for ages trying to decide when to go to see this, and which version of the casting to go for, so by the time I made up my mind it was sold out with overnight queues for day tickets.

So, I duly set my alarm and arrived to join the back of the early morning queue, ending up with a standing ticket.

I think I got a good deal though, as from the back you get a full view of the fantastic lighting effects which rippled above the stage, almost like an additional member of the cast. I saw the casting with Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein. Miller played the role as though electrified and with a real humanity and warmth, struggling to deal with his beastly exterior, whilst Cumberbatch was all cold science. I really wanted to see the opposite casting, to see what each would do with the same role, but sadly it wasn't to be. I hear rumours of a DVD release though, so fingers crossed.

Cause Célèbre

A slightly odd play, although with excellent staging, Ann-Marie Duff was a mix of fragility and passionate hedonism, playing the woman trapped in a moral quagmire. Full of polar opposites and double standards, it felt like we would be served up a black and white ending, but it all turned out in shades of grey. Based on real events in 1935, the play was first produced in 1977, and at first looks like a period piece, but the moralistic snap judgements by people who know little of the facts seems particularly relevant when we are surrounded by super-injunctions and twitter gossip. So, it made me think and wonder.

Propeller: Richard III

I just love Propeller. Funny, irreverent, but always on the button, this was a fast and fantastic production in the tiny theatre at The Watermill in Newbury. Packed with ever more dastardly methods of murder, and with a charmingly vicious lead in the form of Richard Clothier as mad, bad Richard III, this was the most entertaining death packed theatre trip I have had in ages. Still on tour, see it if you can..

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Completing the set

A domestic equivalent of a perfect storm hit my already sporadic blogging and theatre-going last year. Kids' A levels, University applications and departures, followed swiftly by a change of job meant that not only did I not go to the theatre as much, but I wasn’t able to form even semi-coherent thoughts about it.

But I’m back now, and to assuage my completist tendencies I will start with a twitteresque run through of my favourite events of the last 10 months or so

Danton’s Death

Entertaining run through the French Revolution, although Toby Stephens was a bit too ‘Flashheart’ for my liking. Stonking guillotine ending.

La Bete

Mark Rylance appropriately and outrageously stole the show, while David Hyde Pierce balanced him out brilliantly. Great acting which outshone the play.

Tim Minchin and Orchestra at the O2

Fantastic playing with rockstar clichés and some brilliant new songs. I wanted more of the rude and rackety older stuff though.


Rory Kinnear as a very believable, studenty prince with excellent verse speaking. This remains my favourite play *ever*. Ophelia is still a rubbish part though.

Death Trap

A New Years eve treat with Simon Russell Beale. We jumped in all the right places, and laughed throughout. Loved it!

Seasons Greetings

Catherine Tate suitably luscious, making the most of the Abigail’s party overtones, while Mark Gatiss was all witty pathos. And what a treat to find Oli Chris as the male totty!

Treats I am already looking forward to during 2011 are Tennant and Tate in Much Ado , the dream team of Ben Goldacre, Robin Ince, Prof Brian Cox and friends being grumpy about irrationality and excited about science, hopefully followed by some more visits to The Globe, sadly neglected last year.