Brian Blogs – There was a time….

Brian is a friend and colleague who is a keen theatregoer and has recently started reviewing.

His contributions to this blog will revolve around reminiscing on times gone by in theatre.

Episode 1

#Tweeting it  – Brian blogs in 140 characters

Changing theatre attitudes – people eating, sleeping, talking, turning up late. Sure you wouldn’t fancy a night in front of TV the instead?

There was a time……when going to the theatre was an event, an occasion to savour and everyone dressed to impress, but there’s now been a seismic shift in the way which many people dress and behave. Back in the day, my parents would drag me kicking and screaming to the theatre. As a 10-year-old, I didn’t see the point of dressing up, but their pre-show ritual was always the same. Mum would paint her nails, get her best jewellery out and put her favourite frock on. Dad would polish his shoes, iron a shirt and put his only suit on. It all seemed a trial to me, but now I realise what an important lesson they taught me. Going out? Then get dress up! Send a message out! And that was exactly what people did. Film stars had their red carpet, we had the theatre. It was our chance to glimpse at how the other half might have lived.

But, fast forward 40 years and what have we got? Jeans, t-shirts, combats, trainers, tourists in fluorescent jackets with rucksacks, catching the Wednesday matinée of the Mousetrap, ’Hey Martha we’ve got another box to tick before we fly back home.” Don’t call me xenophobic, but why can’t they leave a bit more time and pick their luggage up from the hotel afterwards? Sure, I’ve been guilty of the grunge look occasionally but only because no one else seems to bother anymore, but that doesn’t make it right. Theatres are itching to force the issue, but they fear a stringent dress code will scare the punters off and then the game’s up. Or is it? I think theatres should call our bluff, it won’t kill us. I wouldn’t suggest we go down the Royal Opera House route of ball gowns and dinner jackets, but just ask for suits and dresses or something smart to be worn. People would accept it.

Allow me to briefly charge off at a tangent here; through a girlfriend, I managed to get a ticket for Robbie Williams ‘swing while you’re winning’, a one-off gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 2002. It was strictly black tie and if you weren’t dressed appropriately you didn’t get in. Nobody baulked at the idea of formal dress. We really pushed the boat out that night and travelled by white stretch limo. The dress code just felt right. Ok, not strictly theatre but the principle still holds good.

There is of course a flip side to my argument. Do theatres have any right to dictate how we dress? No, absolutely not, we have liberty to dress how we please. Office workers could argue that they wear a suit during the day, why should they have to wear one in the evening? I can’t reasonably argue against this because they do have a point. The question dear readers is whether culture = formality? Can we only offer culture with strings attached? Is it fair to make people so uncomfortable they feel like the proverbial dog’s dinner? It might just boil down to personal style, if you feel good in threads then you’ll look good and you won’t mind dressing up. To others, it’s a complete anathema and they would only wear a suit for major life events. It’s interesting to note that many pubs in the West End, bar customers in jeans and football shirts. Ok, this might be more about excluding warring football fans, but the West End is trying to set a standard that makes London the place to be. Maybe there’s a compromise here? What about restricting casual wear to matinees and Sunday performances. Or, how about making casual wear available for discounted tickets only? As always, it’s about degree and perspective.

 

Should we expect more from audiences or is it just limiting the masses when it is already an expensive night out?
Should we expect more from audiences or is it just limiting the masses when it is already an expensive night out?

There was a time….when the ‘fourth wall’ in theatre was an imaginary wall covering the front of the stage, well now the fourth wall has been replaced by a virtual plasma screen and people will use this ‘screen’ to eat, sleep and talk their way through a performance. They might as well be at home watching TV. I’ve sat next to people eating peanuts, crisps and meat pies, peanuts being the worst; 10 minutes working their way through a bag of KP and then another 20 minutes sucking their gums. I saw the Official Tribute to the Blues Brothers once, a show big on audience participation and we were jumping up every five minutes. I can’t describe the terror etched on the face of a woman who tipped an open bag of Revels into the aisle and then got on her hands and knees to retrieve them. One gentleman slept through most of Sweeney Todd. It was only when he started snoring that someone actually woke him up. Even more annoying is incessant chatter, about Mark’s operation, Joanne’s boyfriend, the price of diesel, the colour scheme for the nursery – come on guys there is a time and place for everything surely? And yet nobody complains. We’re strangled by that wonderful British trait of tolerance – dirty looks and the odd tut is about as bad as it gets.

Then there are some who treat the theatre as a night out at the pub. I saw the Dame Edna Everage experience at the Strand Theatre. We were in the back row of the upper circle, commonly known as the angels and also the cheapest seats in the house. Dame Edna quickly dubbed us “the paups”. Problem was if you leaned forward you had to hold onto the back of your seat – or else you’d fall out. One guy, who’d been severely imbibing forgot to do this and fell out and somersaulted down two rows landing in a lady’s lap. I did wonder whether Dame Edna, ever the anarchist, planted the drunken angel for effect? I later saw him being ripped to shreds by his wife in the foyer, so I doubt whether the subterfuge would have lasted that long….

(side note – see what Dame Edna expects from her audience at http://www.express.co.uk/news/showbiz/415344/Dame-Edna-Everage-expects-the-best-for-her-final-stage-tour)

“I don’t want to stand on that stage and see dirty sneakers, horrible jeans with holes in the knees and T-shirts.”

Dame Edna Everage

My final rant is reserved for ‘Mr Disturbance’, you know the one who always arrives late, wants to leave early and wants to get to the bar 5 minutes before the interval? Of course 5 minutes before the interval, you often get the showstopper, the foot-stomper, the 11 O’clock number, the tune you’re going to be whistling on the train home at 11pm – well the number of times I’ve missed that because Mr Disturbance wants to avoid the crush at the bar. Of course he couldn’t pre-order a drink like most sensible people because he was late – he was looking for a parking space wasn’t he? There are words for these people…

So what’s the bottom line here? Go to the theatre, but have some sense of occasion, remember where you are, have a drink, of course, but you want it to be a special night and it will be a great night before, during and after the show! Final shout goes to my parents. They introduced me to the theatre, taught me how to behave, how to dress and gave me my sense of style (if I’ve got any at all!)

Finding Joy Review – March 2014

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 

Music and Sound Editor: Janie Armour

Writer and Director: Rachel Savage

Originally Posted: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/finding-joy-marlowe-theatre-canterbury/

#Tweetingit – My verdict in 140 Characters:

5* An emotive, stunning piece created and performed by an extremely talented writer and cast. Dialogue-less mask work at its best.

Finding-Joy-Dancing-LANDSCAPE-Vamos-Theatre

A fully masked play with no dialogue about dementia? Well that sounds like a harrowing night out – but I promise, this is a play which is more than worth the tears.

If you ever ranked types of theatre with mime firmly at the bottom, Finding Joy will change your mind completely. I was certainly one of those people who would never have considered going to see a mime/mask performance but in the last few months, I have seen two fabulous productions, including this one, and I wont look back.

Finding joy is the touching tale of 83 year old Joy. She’s suffering from dementia but it’s happening pretty slowly. At times, she is as playful and alert as she has ever been and then those moments hit where she is confused, lost, out in a road on her own with no idea how she got there or who she is.

Her unlikely savior is her rebellious, drug taking grandson who realises that he can help her and becomes, not only her carer but also her friend.  The love between the two main characters is portrayed beautifully.

In lucid moments, she is a bit of a trickster, playing practical jokes on her grandson and daughter for her own amusement. These moments are made even more poignant when a few minutes later she is putting a card in the fridge or rubbing toothpaste on her hands before bed.

Told with no words, just a beautiful soundtrack echoing different periods of Joy’s life, the magic of this production is the incredible story telling through mime alone.  The unmoving masks, created by Russell Dean, somehow have expressions; you see them smile, sigh, look sad or look confused.

Vamos are masters at what they do this production emphasises that they have managed to secure their place as one of the best full mask companies around. They certainly know how to pack a punch, never shying away from the difficult or sentimental moment but balancing them brilliantly with touching and tragically funny moments. When Joy is sat with her grandson and his friends watching football and decides the cushion is a hat – they all join her – why not?

Some people may not appreciate some of the stereotypes – the uncaring nurse in the hospital or loud music playing, drug taking youths but when using mime and masks, it is difficult to remove such stereotypes or add in subtleties without losing the meaning.

Clever writing and talented actors have managed to create a show which will make you laugh while tears pour down your face; seamlessly going between the two extremes is not an easy feat to achieve.

It got to the end and I was surprised it was over so soon. So many shows leave you pleased that it is finally the end; not Finding Joy. Content in that world, watching the story unfold, it was sad to see it end – although I was running out of tears to cry.

This is no longer running at the Marlowe but is on tour around the country until June 12th 2014

See http://www.vamostheatre.co.uk/shows/finding-joy-2014?4 for dates

 

Rhiannon reflects on……..my biggest theatrical disappointment

 #Tweetingit – Most disappointing theatrical moment. (6 year old me + Jason Donovan crush) + (“Joseph”- Jason Donovan)  = tantrums and lifelong scaring

It was 1992, I was I was 6 years old and completely in love with Jason Donovan. For my brother’s birthday, our neighbours had given me an unbirthday present – a prized possession which I believe, somewhere, I still have: A Jason Donovan video. I probably drove both my parents and brother insane, constantly watching it, making up dances and learning the songs off by heart. Every time I saw him tap Kylie on the nose during “Especially for you”, a pang of something which, which now as an adult, I understand to be jealousy, coursed through me. I also had the Joseph and the “Any Dream Will Do” official video and was desperate to be one of the “aher ah”-ers.

But all was to end well – I was going to go and see him In Joseph. Dad had organised a trip to London and my crush would be but feet away from me (ok quite a lot of feet…and quite a distance down as we would be in the upper circle but closer than a cliff in Australia in the “Too Many broken Hearts” video)

Jumping from foot to foot, I waited for my dad to finally be ready to leave the house ( this is a continue theme with my dad) and proceed on the, seemingly, never-ending journey to London from Littleport.

When we finally got there, I was rushed into the theatre,( almost certainly running late) probably because my parents were trying to ensure I avoided seeing the posters. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a program. And that was it, my life was over. Six years old and it couldn’t possibly get any worse. I was not here to see Jason Donovan at all – the person who would grace the stage would be that man in broom cupboard who spends his time talking to a gopher.

Little did I know
Little did I know

Now, obviously, I took this very well. As a child, I was nothing but a complete angel and would never have a full-blown tantrum at something which, in retrospect, wasn’t that much of a big deal. After all, this was a treat, we were in London at the theatre – not many of my friends had been given that opportunity at such a young age.

That is clearly a lie. I seem to remember – although my dad and anyone else who was in that theatre and had their experience ruined by the huffy child behind them – I threw the biggest of diva strops. Why on earth would I want to see Phillip Schofield rather than Jason Donovan?  I was not a happy bunny – and worst of all, my parents knew it wasn’t going to be Jason Donovan. To be fair to them, there is a possibility that when they had booked the tickets, it still was going to be Jason Donovan as he left suffering from exhaustion however, at my tender age, this kind of reasoning was not going to help the situation. I don’t know when the grumpiness stopped or, as I am writing this now nearly 22 years on, whether it ever did, but I seem to remember both the show and Phillip Schofield were very good.

The title of this post is a little misleading as, looking back now, I am very pleased I got to see Mr Schofield in Joseph as I am now a big fan. But I was only six and so  had few theatrical experiences, let alone disappointments so at the time, this easily made the top spot. I  still wish, however, that I had heard Jason Donovan sing “Close Every Door” live and I am not sure that this will ever be a possibility.  Finally, on the topic of Jason Donovan, I am still horrified that he was kicked out of Harrods. How could they do that to Jason? Unbelievable!  Clearly as a six-year-old I was rather sensitive