Loot by Joe Orton – Review

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Joe Orton's Loot reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Sinead Matthews, Ian Redford, Sam Frenchum and Anah Ruddin’s leg in Joe Orton’s Loot

Loot- Still Outrageously Funny After 50 Years

Watch my YouTube review here
It’s 50 years since The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire, opened its doors. So happy birthday to them and a big thank you for the birthday present they have given us in the form of Joe Orton’s Loot.

Orton died 50 years ago this year, so it’s appropriate that The Watermill have co-produced a brilliant production that presents us with the original uncensored version of the play for the first time ever.

The play is about two young bank robbers who try to hide their stolen money in a coffin. It may not be as shocking as it must have been to audiences in 1965 but it remains outrageous in its lack of morality and its depictions of the authorities as corrupt and hypocritical.

It’s always been a funny play but it’s all the more hilarious when you experience it as Orton intended without the censorship that was still in force at the time. This means that we can enjoy all of Orton’s intended references to homosexuality, blasphemy and S&M.

Possibly the greatest benefit of seeing Loot minus the blue pencil is that the coffin takes centre stage and the body is played by a real person rather than a dummy. Anah Ruddin‘s limpness as she is taken out of the coffin, placed upside down in a cupboard, stripped naked and wrapped up in a sheet is so funny, she deserves a special category of acting award for playing a corpse.

Among an all round excellent cast, Sinead Matthews is outstanding as the dead woman’s nurse in both her timing and delivery (“had euthanasia not been against my religion I would have practised it – instead I decided to murder her”).

The production does justice to this modern classic  

The excellent Christopher Fulford plays a corrupt and increasingly manic plod with no interest in justice. He delivers his comic lines with no shame nor even irony which of course makes them all the more amusing. When it is suggested to him that the police used to be ‘men of integrity’, he replies in  all seriousness, “That is a mistake which has been rectified.”

The production does justice to this modern classic. Michael Fentiman directs with a comic touch and keeps up the fast pace that a play with so many farcical elements needs. It’s a shame that its ‘tour’ has only taken in the two small producing venues Park Theatre and The Watermill. It deserves to be seen by everyone who enjoys good, irreverent comedy.

Loot continues at The Watermill in Newbury until 21 October.

 

Yerma starring Billie Piper at Young Vic – Review

Billie Piper’s Performance Of A Lifetime

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Yerma starring Billie Piper at the Young Vic reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Yerma starring Billie Piper at the Young Vic. Photo: Johan Persson

I was worried that looking through the action at members of the audience in the opposite seats would be distracting. Fortunately there was no chance of that in the Young Vic production of Yerma, thanks to a riveting script by Simon Stone and a visceral performance by Billie Piper.

The traverse stage not only puts the audiences on two sides of the stage but designer Lizzie Clachan encases the acting area in glass. This means you are much more aware that you are part of an audience watching performers, as if in a goldfish bowl or on a catwalk fashion show. You feel you are examining what is being presented before you.

Simon Stone’s brilliant production

Before the play began, for a few moments it was difficult to tell whether you were seeing a reflection of yourself or different but very similar people in very similar seats. I fully expected the glass to fly out but it stayed in place. As a result, I felt I was looking at fish or lizards or some other animal trapped in a tank. This was enhanced by there being no exits for most of the performance (actors entered and exited between scenes under cover of darkness). Not to mention moments when Billie Piper fell against the glass and more.

Director and writer Simon Stone has updated the classic Lorca story cleverly. The central character is still a woman who wants a child but the emphasis has changed from her being pressured by Catholic society to her inability to fulfil her desire driving her to destruction. Billie Piper’s portrayal of a gradual descent from an intelligent, fun woman to someone driven mad by her inability to conceive left me shaking.

This is theatre at its best: a brilliant production serving the acting performance of a lifetime.

A version of this review has appeared on my website seven experience.co.uk

See my video review below or at One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube

Touch by Vicky Jones at Soho Theatre

Amy Morgan and Edward Bluemel in Touch, written and directed by Vicky Jones at Soho Theatre
Amy Morgan and Edward Bluemel in Touch, written and directed by Vicky Jones at Soho Theatre. Photo: ©Tristram Kenton

Funny Bone Not Touched by Touch

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Touch is said to be a sex comedy from the creators of Fleabag. There’s not much sex, it’s not that funny and it’s no Fleabag.

People often find turning thirty difficult. Touch written and directed by Vicky Jones is about Dee, a woman who’s reached that dangerous age and has found her provincial life so restricted that she has moved to the anonymity of London and embarked on a voyage of sexual libertion.

For a play ostensibly about sex, there is very little actual sex: no nudity, hardly any simulated sex and not even descriptions. Take spanking. Our protagonist wants to try it but we never see the act and later when she says she enjoyed it, we get no detail of what she felt.  Clearly not a play for the prurient then.

The much publicised association with Fleabag (“From the creators of the international cult hit Fleabag”) made me long for the kind of detail that made that TV show so real. Who can forget the opening of the first episode when her willingness to take part in a ‘taboo’ act and then her concern about the implications made it one of the funniest and at the same time filthiest three minutes in TV sitcom history?

Writer Vicky Jones is an excellent director

Much of the dialogue with Dee’s lovers is instead about relationships and an analysis of her motives, leading me to think this play is using sex and potentially ‘shocking’ references to sexual practices to smuggle in a story about a woman seeking liberation, a liberation that is ultimately gained not by using people for sex but by being loved.

Vicky Jones also directs and here she is on more solid ground. The messy bedsit with its broken toilet reflects the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of her life and there’s considerable humour in the cast constantly reacting to and navigating around it. The timing and physical comedy are excellent.

The problem is, the script isn’t funny enough. Amusing, yes, but sex and relationships are such fertile ground for comedy. Despite some laugh-out-loud moments, I was surprised to find there were long periods when I didn’t even smile.

Fine acting from Amy Morgan

I think Vicky Jones should have taken more time to develop her main character who for me remained too one dimensional. Perhaps the link with Fleabag, which started as a play, made me think I was was being used as an audience for a pilot for TV sitcom. I did feel that Touch would have worked much better if each encounter were a half hour episode in which we could really get to know and understand our hero.

That said, Amy Morgan is a fine comic actor and all the others gave good support. Edward Bluemel in particular excelled as an overconfident teenager and James Clyde was very droll as the older roué.

It’s good to see a play about a youngish woman who is defining herself rather than allowing herself to be defined by others, I just wish Touch had touched me more.

A version of this review has appeared on Paul’s marketing website Seven Experience and on the Daily Echo website

Unfaithful at Found111 – review

Powerful acting from Niamh Cusack and Sean Campion

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Sean Campion & Niamh Cusack in Unfaithful at Found111, reviewed by One Minute Theatre Reviews
Sean Campion & Niamh Cusack in Unfaithful at Found111. Photo: Marc Brenner

It’s a long time since I’ve seen a play on a traverse stage. Unfaithful at Found111 reminded me just how powerful it can be compared to the usual proscenium arch. As you know, a traverse stage runs the full width of the auditorium with the audience on two sides. Unfaithful at the temporary Found111 space was in a small room with barely 60 people facing the same number across the stage.

You might think that looking through the action at members of the audience in the opposite seats would be distracting and I guess it could be if the action were not riveting. Fortunately there was no chance of that. Instead you are much more aware that you are part of an audience watching a performance. In this respect, the arrangement is the same as the catwalk in a fashion show. You feel you are examining what is being presented before you.

This feeling that you were examining the characters was what made Unfaithful so powerful. This story about an older couple who, bored with their years of marriage and pushed by mid life crises, have liaisions with younger people who themselves are struggling to separate sex and love.

Ruta Gedmintas and Matthew Lewis complete a strong cast

Intimacy is the other characteristic of the traverse stage. With the audience divided in half, we’re all close to the action. Every twitch, every blink is visible. There’s no possibility of an actor taking a rest. Any lack of concentration will be noticed. The kind of actor that says acting is about learning your lines and not bumping into the furniture doesn’t stand a chance in this arena. The good actor who inhabits the part physically and mentally can form the strongest of bonds with the audience, as did the four actors in Unfaithful- Niamh CusackSean CampionRuta Gedmintas and my cousin Matthew Lewis.

Niamh Cusack in Unfaithful at Found111. Reviewed by One Minute Theatre Reviews
Niamh Cusack in Unfaithful. Photo: Marc Brenner

There is a moment when the husband of Niamh Cusack’s character makes a surprising revelation. We’re as shocked as she is. We know she can’t let her husband realise the full effect on her of what he’s said but we can see the slight widening of the eyes and ripple that goes through her body as she stiffens. On another occasion, Sean Campion rubs his nose. It’s a small gesture easily missed in a large auditorium but it matters because of what was said earlier about him.

Under the magnifying glass of a traverse stage the script and direction also have to be spot on. So full marks to Unfaithful’s Owen McCafferty for a script without a wasted word and Adam Penford‘s direction that ensured every moment was filled wherever you looked.

And a special word for Emily Hobbs for finding and adapting this temporary theatrical space and putting on a tremendous season.

Matthew Lewis and Ruta Gedmintas in Unfaithful
Matthew Lewis & Ruta Gedmintas in rehearsal

Dinner With Saddam at Menier Chocolate Factory

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The first course Anthony Horowitz’s witty play is better than the second

Sanjeev Bhaskar in Dinner With Saddam at Menier Chocolate Factory, reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis
Dinner with Saddam

Dinner With Saddam by Anthony Horowitz has a winning way with witty dialogue and farce.

As the harassed head of the household in war torn Iraq, Sanjeev Bhaskar’s reactions both facial and verbal are very funny and his comic timing is perfect. It should be said that the whole cast was good.

You could say the first course of Dinner with Saddam is better than the second. The second act loses impetus with the arrival of Saddam Hussein (Steven Berkoff) and a massive dose of politics. It’s not that I didn’t find the analysis of the West’s position on Iraq interesting but it simply wasn’t that funny.

The Menier Chocolate Factory is a wonderful place for a theatre, intimate and exciting. This was my first visit. It won’t be my last.

A View From The Bridge at Young Vic

Mark Strong and Nicola Walker in A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic
Mark Strong & Nicola Walker in A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic

This Is Why I Love Theatre

I fell in love with theatre as a child and have been going now for over fifty years. I’ve seen hundreds of performances and I nearly always enjoy the experience but it’s very rare that I recapture the excitement I felt when I first sat in a theatre and the lights went down and actors came on stage to tell a story.

But it happened when I saw Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic back in 2014. It is a brilliantly written play about a man’s obsession with his wife’s teenage niece but this was all about the production and the acting.

Mark Strong, Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox played the three central characters- a husband, wife and the niece whom they had raised. The stage, with the audience on three sides, was completely bare. The actors were in bare feet. Everything in Ivo Van Hove’s production was was focused on the words and the acting. And what acting.

Having great dialogue helps but you still need to be able to speak it with conviction. This company’s deep understanding- of the words, the rhythms, the nuances, the silences, the looks- drew me into their world totally.

Everything That Is Best In Theatre

At the Young Vic, I was completely absorbed in the underlying sexual tension between the husband and his surrogate daughter, the self deception and the looming inevitable tragedy. The only ‘prop’ was music, an emotional extension of the human voice, used to great effect.

When the end came, there was one coup de theatre that made my jaw drop. As all the characters drew into a huddle in the middle of which a fatal fight was taking place, what I first thought was water (like tears) began pouring on them from above. Then I realised it was red and soon the actors and the stage were soaked in blood.

It was a simple enough effect and may even sound over the top, but coming at the culmination of such a tense two hours, it was stunning. It was a moment when time stood still.  It was everything that is best in theatre and why I have had a love affair with the stage for over fifty years.