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(A collection of Theatre Thoughts to pass the time while the Stalls are out of bounds)
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I have added a section on the Your Comments page of this website where you can add your thoughts on ANY theatre transmission you watch on television or internet. Eack week more and more shows are made available to watch at home while you are unable to attend theatres. It would be good to know what you think of Theatre At Home - a good subsitute, or not, for being there; what did you think of the show; was it well presented on screen; and especially did it take your mind off isolation?
Have you ever considered that the noun Entrance and the verb To Entrance (ie to beguile) are actually the same word?
Prompted by our friend John's description of how the arrival of Harry and Edna in A Delicate Balance alters the tone of the play (see below: 14 May), I thought of other entrances that have entranced me over the years. Very often, it's a moment where the director picks up a signal from the playwright that this is a significant moment, and all the stagecraft is combined to present it, and lighting, sound and actors conspire to create an impact. Here are a few that have made me sit up and listen before I sat back to savour what followed:
I'd already seen Anton Chekhov's The Seagull several timeswhen I saw John Caird's 1994 production at the Olivier. The start of the play was slightly conventional: young Konstantin and his older friend Dorn discuss Konstantin's ambitions, and his love for Nina. We learn that she has to rush from her family's estate some miles away, and that she might not come.
Then Nina arrives - as the stage lights go up, she races across the back of the large Olivier stage, from one side to the other, till she arrives breathless to join the two men at the front. The change in the lighting, the sound and motion, and the fact that Nina was the young Helen McCrory, announce the fact that this is a major charcter. We don't know yet that everything that happens in the play from this point onwards depends on Nina but we've been warned by her entrance that she is the key player in the drama.
Helen McCrory + NT programme for The Seagull (1994)
I certainly wasn't familiar with Hecuba by Euripides, and Mike and I were surprised to find that the Donmar stage was flooded with a deep pool at the side. Our surprise turned to shock and wonder when the house lights went down, and a young actor shot straight up from beneath the water and announced that he was the ghost of Polydorus. We were entranced: this was the first time we'd set eyes on Eddie Redmayne, and director Jonathan Kent had given him the best entrance ever.
The Donmar was responsible for another sensational entrance some years later when Rob Ashford staged Anna Christie by Eugene O'Neill. No, I don't mean Anna's arrival, with her great opening line; "Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby." The entrance I'm referring to comes in the second act, when Anna and her father are on his boat and a storm rises. The back of the Donmar stage tilts up (yes, this theatre never ceases to amaze) as the lighting and sound grow turbulent. Suddenly, someone throws his muscular arm over the top of the stage and hauls himself over and rolls to the bottom, wet and gasping with the effort. Is he a monster, or a sea-god? No, he's a mortal man, Mat Burke, come to redeem Anna, and it's Jude Law who designed his entrance himself.
Above: Eddie Redmayne dragged from the water by Clare Higgins in Hecuba
Below: Jude Law in Anna Christie
O'Neill is a great writer, but I think that sometimes his stagecraft is underrated (think how he wrong-foots the audience with the bright, sunny morning and the off-stage laughter of the family at the beginning of Long Day's Journey into Night). He sets up a magnificent entrance for Hickey, the protaganist in The Iceman Cometh, and Howard Davies staged this magnificently at the Almeida.
Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neily
The plays opens in Harry Hope's bar, where the dead-beat down-and-outs drown their sorrows as they wait for Hickey, a travelling salesman, to arrive and raise them from their torpor (stay with me; it's a great play). This scene goes on a long time, some would say, a very long time, and the arrival of Hickey has to live up to the expectations that the cast have generated in the audience.
And in Howard Davies's production it certainly did. There was a commotion off-stage and all the actors turned to look away from the audience, as some of them jumped to their feet and crowded centre stage. It's Hickey! As they separated, there was Kevin Spacey, picked out by multiple spotlights above the Almeida stage. It was an entrance that would have done proud for Dolly Levi at the Harmonium Gardens (in Hello, Dolly!, for the uninitiated).
Dolly and Those Beautiful Girls
What then is my favourite entrance, the one that gets me most excited? It's a double one, best realised by Dominic Cooke in Follies at the Olivier. It's the heart-stopping arrival of the guests at Weissman's party at the start of the show. Each of the formerly beautiful girls arrives with the overture marking the song we will hear her sing later in the show. Then this is echoed as each one descends the staircase making her Follies signature entrance as Roscoe sings Beautiful Girls. Yes, that's me applauding each one as I brush away the tears and the show has only just started!
I could go on: the actor striding on stage as a horse shaking his head at the start of Equus makes me think of the first appearance of the horse in War Horse, and the subsequent development from foal to horse... but it's time to stop, and ask you: which entrances have entranced you?
In my last posting on theatrical high moments, I left off A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee. It deserves a tribute of its own since I think it is one of Albee's best plays - possibly THE best play. It was premiered in New York in 1966 and had its London debut in 1969 at the Aldwych Theatre, directed by Peter Hall, when the RSC had their residency there. It tells of a comfortably off family, the matriarch of which is Agnes (Peggy Ashcroft) who right at the start embarks on a complex speech to the effect that she feels she might be losing her mind. Her husband Tobias (Michael Hordern) is also there to weather the storm when it transpires that Agnes's sister Claire (an alcoholic, played by the wonderful Elizabeth Spriggs)) arrives and says that Agnes's daughter Julia (Sheila Hancock, no less) is on her way home after the end of her 4th marriage. Agnes feels she is the fulcrum of the family, helping it to maintain its delicate balance. Recriminations fly around but Agnes tries to keep herself remote from it all.
Peggy Ashcroft / Michael Hordern / Elizabeth Spriggs / Sheila Hancock
The pivotal moment comes right at the end of the first act. There is a knock on the door (at the back of a gloomily lit part of the set) and in come their close friends Edna (Patience Collier – an extraordinary-looking woman) and Harry (John Welsh), who say they have arrived because they have become afraid in their own house.
The point is that they bring in a chill wind, and this frisson is emphasised by the fall of the curtain. The audience is left dangling, wondering what on earth is going on.
In fact, the entrance of Harry and Edna takes the play in a new direction and launches one of the key themes of the play: how much can we ask of our friends in the name of Friendship? When Harry and Edna need help, can their best friends rise to the occasion? And what are they frightened of?
John Walsh / Patience Collier
Above: Elaine Stritch
Left: Rosemary Harris
with Elaine Stritch
I have seen some terrific productions of this play (it never fails) including the NY revival with Elaine Stritch (inevitably) as alcoholic Claire, Rosemary Harris and George Gizzard as Agnes and Tobias, and Mary Beth Hurt as Julia. If you Google the play you will be provided with lots of interesting casts in subsequent revivals. (I expect many of Fredo's Theatre Group members will have seen the great production at the Almeida several years ago with Penelope Wilton and Imelda Staunton, among others.) If you have never seen this play I highly recommend a production filmed many years ago, with Katharine Hepburn, Paul Schofield, and Kate Reid. It's on DVD but not easy to come by.
And I feel inclined, yet again, to air my frequently heard plea for someone to revive Albee's play All Over, which has never been revived in this country. It was also done by the RSC at the Aldwych with Peggy Ashcroft and Angela Lansbury as the wife and mistress of a man who is dying in his four-poster bed, attended by the wonderfully bizarre Patience Collier as the nurse. (AND why haven't we seen Albee's Three Tall Women with Glenda Jackson, which was a success on Broadway last year?)
< Angela Lansbury with portrait of Edward Albee to hang in Sardi's Restaurant, famous for its theatrical caricatures.
< To enlarge this poster and see a trailer of the film, please click HERE to go to another page.
Mike writes -
For those of you who are fans of Tom Hiddleston (and aren't we all?) put the date 4 June 2020 in your diary. That is when the Donmar's much talked about production of Coriolanus will be streamed by NTLive on YouTube for a week. Also on the NTLive schedule are the NT's Barber Shop Chronicles, the Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire and the NT's Our House, all well worth another look. For further details and dates, click HERE to go to the NTLive website
It was a disappointment to know we shall not be seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George this year (next year perhaps?) but if it's any compensation you can see instead Julian Ovenden and Sophie Louise Dann in the 2013 Paris production at the Theatre du Chatelet. No, not on stage in London but here and now on screen by clicking HERE. It's another YouTube treat. The subtitles are in French which is rather appropriate.
Following the reminiscences of ballet programmes (4 May, below), we thought you would like to see this video - Bolero Juilliard performed by students from the Juilliard School of music and dance in New York.
It's their take on the current lock-down, performed in their own homes, and you can join in too. Don't worry, no-one will be watching you!
This wonderful exuberant celebration is guaranteed to cheer you, even if you're not a dance fan. Click below, relax, and feel your spirits rise. Best if enlarged to Full Screen with your sound turned up
(Thanks to Michael R and John R for sharing this with us.)
For opera lovers, our friend Don has told us about Opera Vision, a free website which relays a good choice of operas, mainly from European opera houses. The choice is wide and varied, with different performances scheduled on different days, plus a back catalogue. Click HERE to explore the possibilities and see what's coming up. There are dance performances too.
As many of you know, Fredo is currently processing the refunds for cancelled shows and sending cheques to those who had booked. Some of the shows may be rescheduled sometime in the future (we hope), in which case we shall most likely book again. The shows we have booked to the end of June will require about 400 refunds to be dealt with, as and when we receive the money back! The Old Vic has been particularly helpful. Below is the email we received from them, and we now look forward to them rescheduling us for another future date.
Great to hear from you and we hope you are doing well at this uncertain time. Thank you for being a friend of The Old Vic also.
Just to clarify, 4000 Miles is not cancelled. Yes your performance won't be going ahead tomorrow but the intention is to pick up your group and pop into another Tuesday night in most likely the same seats once back to normal. We are delighted the cast of 4000 Miles are keen to return but with many of our staff currently under furlough these negotiations will continue once we open again so it may be a little while until your new performance date is allocated.
What we would ask is that you hold fire for now as the season is sold out. There will not be another friends on-sale as all tickets will be moved to the new dates meaning your group may miss out - This being said, when we get in contact with the new dates, if you can't attend for any reason or need to change your numbers you will be able to exchange, get a box office credit or refund any tickets you can't use. Any refunds would need to be onto the card used.
I hope this makes sense - If you can't use them I'm sure some fans will be delighted as it has been a long time since 49 tickets have been available for this show.
All the best - we will be in touch
Box Office Assistant
Thank you, Matthew - that is just the perfect response!
Judith & John write -
We are now retired, but in our working lives did not have much opportunity to go to the theatre, the cost and the problems of getting back and forth to London added to the difficulties. We were lucky in the 1980s as a colleague, who was a friend of the ROH would get us tickets; we would drive to Covent Garden, park round the corner, just have time for a meal before the show. Sadly, we did not keep the programmes so memories of the dancers names have largely gone but we do remember Swan Lake in 1980 with, we think, Natalia Makarova, Anthony Dowell and somewhere in the list, Christopher Carr, now a ballet Master at the ROH.
(Mike adds - I have found a link, oddly from Russia, of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake with Makarova and Dowell - you can watch that whole performance again by clicking HERE.
And there is a conversation with Christopher Carr if you click HERE.)
Our visits stopped for a while when our daughter was born but resumed when she showed an interest in dance and it gave an excuse to see some lighter and shorter works such as The Tales of Beatrix Potter and La Fille Mal Garde.
Watching the film of The Red Shoes at the weekend reminded us of how the opera house looked before the rebuild and the rush for drinks in the Crush Bar.
Joining the Theatre Guys has opened this world to us again with such a list of rich offerings in the three years since we joined, having been to the ROH some 14 times. It is not just the performances but the whole occasion.
To choose favourites is pretty difficult but triple ballets are near the top with a mix of new and older, from the heartbreaking Marguerite and Armand and to the hilarious Concert.
There are so many memorable ROH evenings but one that stands out is the Bernstein centenary performance. The first piece, Yugen (choreographed by Wayne McGregor and set to Bernstein's Chichester Psalms) is memorable to us both for the dance and the singing.
The Chichester Psalms is a favourite of ours and brings back memories of when our daughter sang with Southend Young Singers. We were invited to take part in a performance of the piece at the Barbican. For a rehearsal, we picked up Bob Pepper, (name dropping!) the conductor of The English Schools Orchestra and Choir, from Southend Central and spent the morning polishing it before the performance a week or so later. To see and hear it performed again with dance was magic.
Yurgen The Age of Anxiety
The second piece, The Age of Anxiety, was a brilliant piece of choreography. We listened to the second symphony before going to this performance and it did not really make sense until we saw the choreography. Very modern and the set was so much like the painting, Night Hawks by Edward Hopper.
Corybantic Games gave us a chance to concentrate on watching some wonderful dancers in small groups, some we may not have seen before: Lauren Cuthbertson, Matthew Ball, Yasmin Naghdi, Marcelino Sambe and we have looked out for these ever since, the most recent being The Cellist.
Cuthbertson Ball Naghdi Sambe
The standard of performance in the ROH ballets, the sets, lighting, music and dancing never ceases to amaze us. It is so hard to pick out individual dancers but certainly our favourites have been Francesca Hayward, Sarah Lamb, Marcelino Sambe, Thiago Soares, Marianela Nunez and so many more.
. We wanted to put a little something on the website and wondered where to start. The problem now is how to finish, so will maybe do a bit about some of our theatre visits another time.
One thing to remember on a theatre visit with Fredo and Mike is to expect the unexpected. During our time with the group we have seen many plays and shows, some funny, some thought provoking and some that challenge. One of my most moving was War Horse, you know they are puppets but by the art of storytelling in the end they are real horses. Similarly, watching the Corps de Ballet at the Royal Opera House glide across a crowded stage in perfect unison.
War Horse / Royal Ballet Corps de Ballet
Matthew Bourne's: Car Man / Cinderella / (below) Swan Lake
Then there was Matthew Bourne, this really was unexpected. The dance, staging, storytelling, the music, everything challenged what you would expect, black swans, male swan, Carmen set in a garage, Cinderella set in war time. Taking classic stories, yet delivering a totally different version, but still true to the original. His ability to understand his craft, yet challenge his audience is exceptional. It’s no wonder that the Theatre Guys annual trip to Salders Wells sells out quickly, after all Christmas would not be Christmas without a Matthew Bourne ballet
Mike adds - We just hope we can take everyone to see The Nutcracker in January as planned.
TAKE A LOOK AT EARLIER THEATRE DIARY ENTRIES WHICH CAN BE FOUND HERE
04/03/20 - At the time of writing everyone is aware of what precautionary measures we have to take to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. No definite instructions regarding travel, etc have been given by the government as yet, which could affect our plans, only possible future scenarios.
We intend to continue with our Group theatre visits as long as possible. If you have any cough/cold symptoms you may prefer not to join us, in which case please let us know as far in advance as you can.
If we are given specific advice regarding large gatherings, theatre closures or older people, we shall of course heed that advice.
We must emphasise that NO REFUNDS can be given unless a theatre performance is cancelled and the theatre makes a refund to us. If a theatre remains open but we are unable to take a coach to London, we can provide you with your ticket details on request so you can make your own way there.
Any update on these arrangements will be announced here on our website. In the meantime, keep washing your hands and KEEP CHECKING HERE.
Fredo and Mike
17/03/20 - In line with the government's recommendations, all West End theatres have closed until further notice. Click HERE for the statement from the Society of London Theatre.
It appears that we shalll get a refund on our tickets for cancelled performances, and when we receive the money, we shall refund all our customers. Please be patient; it will take some weeks for the theatres, and for me, to sort this out.
Initially, I will deal with bookings for shows scheduled in the near future and people who booked for these have been notified separately. Thank you for all the kind messages we received in response. I will deal with later shows when there is more guidance.Theatres may not make refunds for later shows until they are certain the performances cannot take place.
If you wish to contact us, please do NOT phone or leave a message - please send an email or text.
In the meantime, this seems like a good opportunity to thank you all for your support, and to wish you well in the next weeks and months. Keep safe and well.
Fredo & Mike
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