London’s Easter Treats

Something had to give last week and unfortunately, it ended up being this blog post.

March has just been one of those crazily hectic months where everything seems to happen at once. Did I meet any of those deadlines I set myself in March? Erm…well….some. I may not have completed everything I was hoping to finish but at least I made a proper dent in my to-do list.

Easter Rabbits

Thankfully, REST in the form of the Easter break is just at the end of the week and although I’m planning to do as little as possible (except stuff my face with chocolate), as always, there is lots going on in London for those who are up for more energetic activities other than unwrapping Easter egg packaging and reaching for the remote.

Easter Egg Hunts – In the Richmond area, there’s an Easter Egg hunt at Kew Gardens and one at Ham House. There’s also a trail at Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, Fenton House in Hampstead,  Morden Hall Park, Selfridges, Kensington Roof Gardens, Gabriel’s Wharf on The Southbank and for something a little different,  go aboard the Cutty Sark in Greenwich where children and adults alike will be tasked with a treasure hunt – finding eggs hidden in the ship. Find out more by clicking here.

Easter Egg Hunt

Ships and Stars – If the Stargazing Live programme on TV and the recent eclipse have given you a new-found interest in astronomy then it’s worth staying in Greenwich to visit the Royal Observatory. Children between the ages of 7-11 can also book to stay in the Cutty Sark’s first ever sleepover this Easter, so once they’ve finished locating those hidden eggs, they can participate in games and storytelling, learn how to hoist flags and find out more about the stars and planets under the expert guidance of a Royal Observatory astronomer. Greenwich is obviously bidding to be the London borough to visit at Easter because Punchdrunk Theatre are taking over the National Maritime Museum for their immersive, interactive show, Against Captain’s Orders – A Journey into the Uncharted aimed at 6-12 year old’s. Want to step aboard HMS Adventure? Yes please! I mean….Aye aye, Capn’!

Chicks and Ducks and Geese Better Scurry – At the WWT London Wetland Centre in Barnes some of their ducklings have gone walkabout and they need intrepid explorers to help find them. Aww…. But before you fear for the safety of those fluffy little chicks you’ll be relieved to know that this Easter Duck Hunt is a search for GIANT plastic yellow ducks. A little easier to find then…

Giant Duckling Hunt

Other Easter activities at the 105-acre nature reserve include games and duck painting. (Again. Not real ducks.Although you’ll probably see loads, as well as birds, spring flowers and other wildlife)

duck painting

Theatre – what could be more theatrical than a cast of over a hundred in full costume, a donkey, horse and doves and an audience of twenty-thousand plus watching a re-enactment of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In Trafalgar Square no less! The Wintershall Players return with their open-air production of The Passion of Jesus. Last year, over 20,000 people watched the story unfold and expect similar numbers for their two showings on Good Friday at 12 and 3.15pm. As an added bonus it’s free! The downside? Younger audience members might find the crucifixion scene (with realistic-looking blood and flesh wounds) upsetting.

Death By Chocolate – There will be lots of sweet treats across the capital through various artisan chocolatiers (Time Out have provided a handy list, click here). Although if ever a place deserves to be visited on name alone then I would nominate Choccywoccydooda in Soho. However, The London Dungeon has (as always) provided an antidote to the sickly-sweet, commercialised version of Easter, all cutesy hoppity bunnies and fluffy waddling ducklings. Instead, a Victorian Sweet Shop will tempt you in with colourful confectionary. But beware. The proprietor is none other than Miss Edmunds,  a notorious poisoner!

I’m not sure that would be enough to put me off. Another creme egg anyone?

Easter Chocolate

Man and Superman

Man_and_Superman_poster_notitle

My only foray into any work by George Bernard Shaw took place during my drama school years. In our second year we did scene work on Candida and I also chose a speech from Man and Superman for an oratory exercise where we each had to address an argument to the audience and it couldn’t be from a Shakespeare play.

The speech I picked was one that the Devil makes in Act III. Previous productions of Man and Superman usually cut out this entire third act, a dream sequence in which the Don Juan character meets the devil, Dona Ana (Ann in the rest of the play) and an escapee from “boring” heaven. The NT production, directed by Simon Godwin and starring Ralph Fiennes has kept that third act and I was keen to see it.

Hell scene in man and Superman

 

Initially, after noting that the play had the earlier start of 7pm to incorporate the 3 hours and 45 minutes playing time, I was concerned that this wordy play with plenty of philosophical musings would be a bit inflated and boring; that I would get a bit lost in all the verbose arguments about the nature of man and love and art and how we live our lives. But it’s so well acted, directed and effective in terms of the design that the time flew by and I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Yes there are plenty of moral, political, social and philosophical debates within the play but it’s also extremely funny with an element of a romantic, comedy of manners about it. The design has to incorporate a drawing room/study setting, a villa abroad, a Brigand hideout in the mountains, hell (with an ingenious lift to heaven), a dream world and also an exterior road with a fancy car, all of which are beautifully realised by designer Christopher Oram.

Brigand scene

Ralph Fiennes is fantastic in the lead role of Jack Tanner, the Don Juan figure, a confirmed bachelor and revolutionary firebrand who is trying to escape convention and his feelings for Ann, played with great cheekiness and charm by Indira Varma of whom I’ve long been a fan. It takes a lot of stamina and technique to deliver such a huge, wordy amount of text and ideas and make it interesting and believable and funny. While I still can’t watch him without thinking of Leonard Rossiter in Rising Damp, Fiennes has excellent comic timing and a really watchable stage presence. He and Indira sparked off one another and I really believed in their relationship.

Tim McMullan is also superb. I’ve seen him often in various NT productions and no wonder, as he always brings humour and warmth to any part he plays. He’s an excellent Brigand leader and a very funny Devil. The rest of the cast are also very good and Simon Godwin has done an excellent job of staging this tricky play, getting the most out of his cast and really bringing Man and Superman to life.

Tim McMullan and Indira Varma

What I didn’t expect was the amount of fun I had watching it. It’s a fun, funny play! It’s certainly not how I remembered it when I struggled to read it all the way through and then learn that particular Devil’s speech (which was a devil of a speech to learn!)

Get a ticket if you can. It’s on till 17th May and you can find more info about the production and how to book tickets by clicking here.

Secrets of Screen Acting

I did a 2-day workshop with Patrick Tucker over the weekend on the Secrets of Screen Acting. Not only was it fantastic and incredibly useful but it made me realise how misinformed I was about the techniques needed for acting in front of the camera. I wasn’t alone.

Scene from heat
Scene from Heat

One group member felt that everything she’d ever learnt previously about TV/Film acting was b*****ks (her words), and all that “less is more” advice isn’t actually helpful. The techniques Patrick taught us almost seem to be the opposite of what feels right and what we’re taught in drama schools (which is still primarily a theatre training for the stage).

I’m not going to share too much about what Patrick  teaches because he’s written all about it in his book, Secrets of Screen Acting, (which is also accessible as a series of podcasts – click here) and he still runs courses and workshops. So I would encourage anyone interested in doing film or TV to buy the book or do one of his workshops (he also runs courses for directors).

Famous film scenes

What I found particularly interesting was that my on-screen presence was different from my off-screen presence and to how I think I come across in everyday life. In the theatre, I usually play strong, intelligent and sometimes slightly neurotic women. What came across on screen was that I looked like a gentle but sad-eyed victim.

How the camera “reads” your features can be totally different to how you see yourself. I remember once doing a short film with an actor who was the warmest, loveliest guy in person, with finely chiselled features and a great smile. But on camera,  he looked like a cold-hearted, evil murderer. It was freaky how nasty he looked on screen!

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

In that same film, I was cast as his domestically-abused wife, so you’d think I might have figured out back then what my on-screen USP might be. But because it was a role so different from my generally happy self in everyday life, I didn’t put two and two together. After that, I played a grieving mother in a campaign for St John Ambulance which involved lots of looking sadly into the distance. So really, the signs were there.

Even if you don’t want to be typecast in certain roles, it’s useful to market yourself as such, achieve some level of success playing those roles and then you’ll be in more of a position to break out of that typecasting bracket because people with the power will be more willing to take a chance on you the more successful you are and the more experience you have. I used to hate the whole idea of typecasting but now I try and embrace it.

Marilyn Monroe film still

It can be tricky trying to determine what your USP is, especially if the vibe you give off is different from theatre to TV/film. Get someone to film you or film yourself on a mobile or camera of your choosing and try and watch it back objectively. Patrick also got us each to do this exercise which you might like to try:

Imagine you’re meeting a director/casting director for the first time and they have an initial chat with you. What 4 words do you think that director might have written about you? Not necessarily what you’d like them to write but what you actually think they would. Keep it positive.

E.g. do you have a particular feature which stands out? Are you petite? Do you have a big personality which comes through on-screen? Do you look stern and aloof or warm and friendly? What does your face look like in repose? What does it look like if you’re smiling? Try and be objective when watching yourself on screen and try not to get disheartened. We all wish we could change and improve parts of ourself. Embrace what makes you different, what makes you unique.

Jack Nicholson

When you have your 4 words check your headshots and any marketing material like a showreel. Do they accurately represent what you have to offer? Ask other people (preferably people who don’t know you) what 4 words they’d use when looking at your photo or showreel or from meeting you.

Make typecasting work to your advantage.

A Time-Out

I’m going to use the familiar “plate-spinning” analogy to describe my life over the last few weeks. I seem to have so many projects on the go at the moment, each a different metaphorical plate that I’ve started spinning on one of those long, thin, slightly bendy poles. I feel like I’m running between all these spinning plates as they wobble and teeter precariously, threatening to fall.

plate spinning

I know I’m not the only one. Another actor-friend of mine regularly talks about how she’s juggling lots of balls. I’m pretty sure she’s not talking about doing a circus-skills workshop but is actually trying to find time outside of full-time work to organise and fund a tour of a one-woman show that she wrote last year (click here for details). In fact, everyone I seem to speak to lately is feeling the same way. Under pressure. (Cue music: dum dum dum deddle la dum.)

I’ve been trying to gain some perspective (when I’m not running between each pole, shaking it frantically to get the plate spinning again) because when I think about it, most of these projects and looming deadlines are of my own making!

Sometimes, it’s a case of timing; events conspiring to take place at the same time through no fault of my own and everything seeming to break down or go wrong all at once. But I do seem to have this streak in me that embarks upon new projects when my schedule is already full and I haven’t finished the previous one(s). So on top of current house renovations, working extra shifts on reception to help pay for the renovations, research and form-filling for the adoption process, a devised project for a festival in May, an upcoming Acting for Camera weekend workshop, weekly updates for this blog, a showreel I really should have finished last year and a hectic social calender because everyone’s birthday seems to be in March (including my own), I’ve decided on top of all that, TO WRITE A PLAY!!

Oh. And I announced to people I respect and look up to that I would have a rough draft together by the end of March. What was I thinking?!

I’ve never written a play before but even I know that you need periods of undisturbed time in order to sit down and write it. To make matters more complex, the play I want to write, that’s been floating around in my head for the past year, seems to involve a cast of about 14! Fourteen! Talk about running before you can walk…

So what is all this about? Is it a form of self-sabotage – i.e. filling my plate (sorry about the plate metaphor again) with too much so that I’m unable to finish anything? Do you recognise yourself in my behaviour? Perhaps it’s a perverse need to shake things up a bit?

I believe that deadlines are important and committing to something when you don’t see how you could possibly do it is an act of faith which generally pays off. But I know that in my own case, I’ve really got to get down to finishing some of the projects I’ve started. I also know that, for me, taking some time-out (even when I think I can’t manage it) to do 10 minutes sitting in silence or a half-hour’s morning pages, is key to helping me regain some balance. Even a brisk 20-min walk through a park can really help.

Expending all my energy on my “to-do” list without taking even a little bit of time to replenish my energy in some way will ensure that I continue to feel overwhelmed and I don’t know about you, but once I reach a certain stage, it’s the little things that tip me over the edge. So when an important audition I’d prepared for didn’t go well (an understatement – it was a complete car-crash of an audition in front of a director and writer I admired) I still kept it together. Then my watch stopped working (a sign from the Universe?!) and it turns out it’s nothing to do with the battery. It was only when I was sobbing away watching DIY SOS the other night that I realised my slight over-reaction to the programme was probably down to some much-needed release of tension.

wailing tears

If you’re feeling something similar, try at some point this week to carve out even 15 minutes for yourself to do whatever helps you replenish your energy. It might be feeding the ducks or sitting quietly for 10 mins or writing down how you feel in a journal. Embrace the positive aspects of a Time-Out. While they are usually reserved for a naughty child they are still given in the hope of calming the child down and giving them time to reflect on their behaviour. That sounds like something we, as adults, could do with on occasion.

So give yourself a Time-Out. It might help gain a positive perspective on things.

Already, I feel better for having written this post. I read back what I’ve written and see that my “to-do” list is, generally, full of things I like to do and want to do. My job on reception is hardly toiling away at the coalface. Broken belongings or a bad audition are what could be called “first world problems” and apart from the inconvenience of a bathroom renovation, (a process that will end at some point soon), pretty much everything I’m doing is of my choosing.

I shall try to finish my showreel and write a rough draft of a play by the end of March and if my timeline is not realistic, I shall also try not to beat myself up if it doesn’t get done. But I will make sure that give myself a Time-Out every now and again. Just until I’ve stopped juggling those balls and spinning those plates.

The Nether

The Nether Play

In the virtual world of The Nether, there are different realms where the people who log in can become any character they want for a price. One realm has such superior coding, that sensations within it feel “real” and it draws a lot of returning guests. The only problem is, it’s a realm run by a paedophile.

“Papa” has created a virtual world for himself and others like him, to fulfill their fantasies so that he doesn’t act out his “urges” in the real world. But when this virtual world is so “real”, the question of what’s right and what’s wrong becomes blurred.

This complex moral argument is at the heart of Jennifer Haley’s incredibly powerful new play which transferred from the Royal Court and is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 25th April. The play raises questions about identity, reality and what it means to be human and also deals with taboo subjects like paedophilia and the continuing pace and subsequent dangers of technology. Is it good for us to be inhabiting these virtual worlds for long periods of time or do we begin to lose our sense of self? Considering that a recent Ofcom survey claimed that, in the UK, adults spend more time on media devices than they do asleep, this play is bang-up-to-date in terms of subject matter.

The Nether

The cast of 5 are all very good in their roles (with a particular nod for the understated qualities of Ivanno Jeremiah) but it’s the play and the design which are the real stars. To compliment Jennifer Haley’s pin-sharp writing and ingenious way of unfolding the story (complete with a couple of didn’t-see-it-coming twists), set designer Es Devlin and video designer Luke Halls have created a world in which the realms are represented. It’s like being inside a computer and the design is so simple and so beautiful that I would expect some award nominations to follow. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Nether wins best new play with best designed production to boot.

It will certainly provoke some interesting debate afterwards and that’s precisely what a company like The Royal Court does so well. Don’t be put off by the subject matter. It’s a definite must-see not only for the writing but for the visual possibilities that the theatre can offer material with a futuristic, sci-fi edge.

A Dramatic Menu

About 12 years ago, I played Angela in a dinner theatre production of Abigail’s Party which went out to Bahrain and Qatar and was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had as an actor.

Alison Steadman in the original production
Alison Steadman in the original production.

The production I was in was performed in the round on a metre-high platform surrounded by dinner tables in a 5-star hotel. We performed the play whilst ex-pats and wealthy arabs ate a three-course meal. Needless to say that performing a 70’s play, where the action centred around adults getting drunk in gulf nations where alcohol is illegal, seemed an unusual choice. But mostly, it seemed to go down very well with the diners (when they weren’t distracted by their mobile phones or dessert!)

What reminded me of this, is that in March, The Art of Dining will be holding an Abigail’s Party pop-up event – a night that includes food, drink, theatre and music, all with a 70’s theme and based on Mike Leigh’s play and film of the same name.

Abigail's Party invite

The blending and integration of various art forms – design, music, role-play, costume, food and drink (which, done well, is a kind of art form in itself) is just one of the many creative ways that companies and organisations (especially small companies or those just starting out) are trying to give their patrons and audience a new entertainment experience. Dinner out, a film or theatre excursion, is given a fresh approach in order to elevate it from your standard evening out. I’m not sure if it’s as a result of funding cuts within the arts, or people just wanting a different, more immersive experience but competition to attract paying guests seems to have led to an increase in creative ways to get bums-on-seats.

Cheesy pineapple hedgehog

Although the pop-up Abigail’s Party event won’t feature actors performing the actual play (and with chef Ellen Parr at the helm, there will be a more tasteful twist on the 70’s cheesy-pineapple-sticks-and-prawn-cocktail fare), it made me think about other possible links between the dining experience and theatre shows currently being performed.

Here’s my TOP 5:

  • Sweeney ToddTooting Arts Club had a huge hit last year with their production of Sweeney Todd set in Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop. In fact, it was such a phenomenal success that it reached the attention of none other than Sir Cameron MacKintosh and with his help they are rebuilding an exact replica of Harrington’s in London’s West End at 39-45 Shaftesbury Ave. Described as Theatreland’s first pop-up theatre venue, audience members can either partake of Mrs Lovett’s infamous pies or order jellied eels, mash and licqor whilst they watch the gruesome antics. For tickets or more info, click here.
  • The Faulty Towers Dining Experience – a third of this show is scripted but the rest is improvised as you become a “diner” at the Faulty Towers restaurant. You’ll be waited on by Basil, Sybil and Manuel so expect mayhem and shambolic service to ensue and with the food being a three-course 1970’s style menu the emphasis might be more on a comedy  rather than a quality dining experience. But that’s all part of the fun. (Just don’t mention the war….)
  • Been to see The Lion King? Want to continue the experience but in a restaurant setting?? Shaka Zulu probably comes closest.

shaka_zulu_mezzanine_3

  • There’s a distinctly Indian flavour in the current performances at the National Theatre with Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Dara. If seeing either production makes you long for the heat, colours and taste of that fascinating and vibrant country you could check out the following: Masala Zone (if on a budget), Dishoom (great for atmosphere), or for a more fancy affair, try michelin-starred restaurants like Tamarind, Amaya and Gymkhana. Of course, you’ll be spoilt for choice if you head to Brick Lane. Whilst I love a good curry, Thrillist has rated every curry house along Brick Lane. So I don’t have to. Check out their list here.
  • Ok, so it’s a cafe and not a dining experience as such. And the link is as flimsy as a wet tissue. But seeing as the musical Cats is back in the West End, I would suggest a visit to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium. Whilst I have nothing against the actors/singers/dancers in Cats who are all very talented, I am not a fan of the musical itself. It’s just not my cup of tea (and I’m a cat lover!) What I would suggest, is that instead of seeing grown men and women prance about as cats in lycra-clad “rags” and face-paint, you have an actual cup of tea in the soothing, purring presence of real cats! All for a fraction of the cost!! Check out some of the cats here.
See this
See this
Not this.
Not this.

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps you know of a great Vietnamese to eat at after catching a matinee of Miss Saigon? Or maybe you have some other linking culinary/theatrical suggestions.

If you do, please let me know. I’d love to add some more to the list.

Di and Viv and Rose

Di and Viv and Rose is the story of three friends who share a house during their university years and charts how their friendship changes and survives the various events that happen to each of them over the decades.

di and viv and rose

It premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in 2013 with original cast members Gina McKee, Anna Maxwell Martin and Tamzin Outhwaite and was such a sell-out hit that it recently transferred to the Vaudville Theatre in the West End. Tamzin Outhwaite who plays Di, transferred with the production and joining her in the West End are Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell as Viv and Rose respectively.

Di

I didn’t see the production at Hampstead but as it began, I wondered if the production had been slightly adapted in terms of the design to suit a more commercial, West End stage and audience. Because of the names attached, not only the three actresses and writer (a successful comedy actress herself) but also with Anna Mackmin as director, I went with the expectation that it would be a very good, very slick, enjoyable production. But I must admit that it exceeded my expectations.

The play by Amelia Bulmore is very funny, especially the first half which bounces along with the characters’ youthful enthusiasm dealing with sex, dating, feminism and the ups- and-downs of sharing a student house. The three are totally different in personality – Di is the sporty lesbian, a warrior woman with a soft heart; Viv, the slightly disapproving intellectual and firm feminist who dresses like she’s from the 1940’s and home-maker Rose, aptly named as she sees the positive in everything and views men and the world through rose-tinted specs – but the university years see their friendship sealed and bonded for life.

Rose

The second half shows how the years take their toll on the three and there is a slight predictability to the tragedy that occurs. The first half is mostly light-hearted, good humoured froth so you know that there’s going to be some darkness to counterbalance this further down the line. But even still, I was unprepared to be so reduced to tears, kicking myself yet again for going to the theatre without packing some tissues (something you would have thought I’d have learned after seeing Visitors at the Arcola which left me a snotty-nosed wreck!).

The writing is good, the direction and design are good but what really makes this production special is the acting. Jenna Russell, Tamzin Outhwaite and Sam Spiro are SUPERB and even though they’ve been playing these roles for a while now (especially Tamzin Outhwaite), they each hit the emotional bullseye every time. Nothing was forced or seemed acted. The timing for both the comedy and the moments of high drama were spot on. Even uncontrolled giggling (something which I think is harder to act convincingly than crying) seemed so genuine that you laughed along with them even through the tears.

viv

Initially, I wondered whether the three actresses (all in their mid to late 40’s) could convincingly play 18-20 year olds (the age of the characters during the entire first half). But by the end it was clear that the production needed three actresses of sufficient mature talent and range to play the passing of time through the play and be believable as the older characters. All three were convincing throughout and I left genuinely believing that these three were the best of friends.

As a production it will possibly appeal more to women than men as it’s about female friendships but all the audience, the night I went, seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves (with plenty of sniffles in the later, sadder parts).

So grab a friend (or two) and go celebrate the joys of friendship. Long live Di and Viv and Rose!

Viv di and rose groupshot