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Tag Archive | "Donmar Warehouse"

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Review: The El Train, Hoxton Hall

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Adam Foster

The El Train

Eugene O’Neill is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the twentieth century and the first American dramatist to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But while this trilogy of early one-act plays offers an almost anthropological insight into O’Neill’s recurring themes of disillusionment, alcoholism and despair, they lack the scope and complexity of his later works. As such, this is an endeavour undermined by that old adage of style over substance.

The former music hall at the heart of this Grade II*-listed building has remained largely untouched since it was built in 1863. The El Train sees Hoxton Hall transformed into a New York tenement block in the pre-prohibition era, with exposed brickwork and iron fire escapes nestled beneath the imposing structure of overhead ‘el’ tracks. Stepping off the streets of East London into this atmospheric old building, it is easy to fall immediately in love with this stylishly realised found space venture. The problem is the plays.

The El Train is comprised of three one-act plays: Before Breakfast, The Web and The Dreamy Kid, all set in 1910s New York and intertwined with originally conceived music from a live jazz band, led by vocalist Nicola Hughes. At the centre of it all though is the imperiously talented Ruth Wilson, who appears in the first two plays and makes her directorial début in the third. Having won an Olivier Award for her turn in O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse last year, you sense that Wilson is rather fond of O’Neill. That fondness may well be justified in the case of his later work but here it feels curiously misplaced.

The first two plays are intensely dramatic to the point of almost intolerable melodrama, rarely seen outside of Albert Square. Before Breakfast is a monologue about a woman stuck in a loveless marriage to a failed poet. While Wilson commands the stage with consummate ease as Mrs Rowland, the play is weighed down by encumbering expositional detail.

The second play of the evening, The Web, sees Wilson play Rose, a troubled young mother desperate to escape the thick Manhattan air but unable to raise the money to take her child away with her. As she argues violently with her pimp (Zubin Varla), a neighbour, Tim (Simon Coombs), decides that enough is enough. It’s a densely plotted piece given its short running time and, despite a mesmerising central performance from Wilson, it ultimately feels overwrought.

Thankfully, there is a little more substance to the final play of the evening, The Dreamy Kid, which largely turns its back on melodrama in favour of something more intriguing. As Mammy Saunders (Nicola Hughes) lies on her death bed, her only wish is to see her grandson Dreamy (Simon Coombs), a young man drawn into gang violence and on the run from the law. O’Neill’s premise is more simple here and it allows the story to build to a desolately bleak conclusion.

Under the ‘el’ train tracks, you can’t help but feel that this is an evening designed as a vehicle for Wilson’s undoubted talent. Indeed she has assembled a strong cast, creative team and a fantastically atmospheric venue to boot. But unless you’re an O’Neill devotee, £45 seems a lot to fork out when the plays lack the sophistication of their surroundings.

The El Train is playing at Hoxton Hall until 30 December. For more information and tickets, see the El Train website.

Photo © Marc Brenner.

Adam Foster

Adam Foster

Adam graduated from the University of Exeter in 2012. He is currently enrolled on Royal Holloway’s MA Playwriting course run by the playwright and academic Dan Rebellato. He has previously trained as an actor at The BRIT School and is represented by Alchemy Active Management.

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Blog: An actor writes – Why isn’t theatre interested in women?

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Briony Rawle

The Donmar Warehouse's all-female Julius Caesar

The Donmar Warehouse’s all-female Julius Caesar

Being an unemployed actor, I have lots of time to sit and wonder why I’m an unemployed actor. It could be that I’m terrible at acting, which would be unfortunate. Maybe I’m OK at it but have just been unlucky recently. Maybe I have selective deafness and the normal speaking voice that I hear in my head actually comes out as a kind of crackly, wailing shriek. Maybe I walk weird. I don’t know.

However, one thing I know certainly doesn’t help is that the kind of theatre that makes money nowadays just isn’t really interested in women. The other day I worked out that of all the actors in the last four plays I’ve seen, only FOUR were female. I’d estimate that there was an average of eight actors in total per show, so for every one actress I saw across those four plays, there were seven male actors. “Phew,” I thought. “Finally, a good reason why I can’t get a job. Oh no wait. That’s awful news.”

Now, I haven’t just been deliberately going to see man-heavy productions so that I’d have something to whinge about. The reasons for choosing to see these shows were, respectively, Friend A wants to go; Friend B wants to go; got a free ticket because I said I’d review it; God I love David Tennant. So a pretty unbiased sample, I think. Three of the plays were about the journey of a male protagonist, and the fourth was a classic fairytale in which the female protagonist’s journey is Marriage To Nice Man. The cast of this play featured two of the four actresses I saw, which makes the maths go a bit sticky in various ways, depending on how good you are at maths.

As a side note, a major female character in the latter production was played by a man. As a spindly, off-shooting side note to that side note, all-male productions where female parts are played by men are starting to get on my wick. There I said it. I’m all for casting to be messed around with, especially with Shakespeare where it tends to happen most frequently, but can we PLEASE save casting men in the women’s parts until it’s a bit easier for an actress to catch a break? It’s getting quite hard to watch. Not least because I’m broke from no work and can’t afford a ticket. Thanks.

Don’t get me wrong, the shows I saw were great. But I keep looking at my watch and wondering when it’ll be time to start telling women’s stories in film, theatre and TV. Stories that don’t necessarily involve marriage or love or children, but just stories about a person attempting to fudge their way through the world, where that person just happens to be female. When will we stop making a woman’s gender in fiction the prism through which she experiences the world, or worse, simply tacking her on to a man’s story as a vehicle for his self-discovery? I would politely encourage you to do the gender maths for the last few plays you’ve seen like I did. Perhaps you’ve just been to see Top Girls, The House of Bernarda Alba and the Vagina Monologues and you’re actually a bit worried about underrepresentation of the male narrative in theatre. But I doubt it.

If you’re a director, look at the last play you directed. If you’re a playwright, look at the last play you wrote. If you’ve been to the cinema recently, look at this and then think about the last film you saw. Maybe I am just a terrible actor. But it’s time we levelled the playing field, so that if a girl like me can’t get work, it’s because she’s a terrible actor and not just because she’s a girl. Or other inspiring words of hope.

Photo by Flickr user vinzcha under a Creative Commons Licence.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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TheatreCraft 2013

Posted on 02 December 2013 by Lisa Carroll

Theatrecraft at the Royal Opera House.

On Friday 22 November, the Royal Opera House opened its doors to over 1,000 young theatremakers for TheatreCraft 2013. The event is tailored to those who want to work in theatre but not as actors, and there’s plenty on offer, from workshops to Meet the Experts sessions to networking hubs. TheatreCraft is the place to be to learn about the business, meet peers you may one day work alongside, and discover how best to go about pursuing your passion – so if you missed out on this year’s event, make sure it doesn’t happen again!

Everyone knows getting into theatre can be tough, which is why the event is such a great forum to bring together so many people and possibilities. When there are so many ways of forging your career, on top of there being so much competition, it can be hard to even know where to start. This is where many of the workshops at TheatreCraft came in. ‘On the Way to Directing’, led by Rob Hastie, Associate Director of the Donmar Warehouse, encouraged young directors to really think about what an assistant director brings to the rehearsal room. Moreover, Hastie was incredibly helpful in pinpointing how you can ensure that you are not only the best person for the job, but the best person at the job when you are hired. Equally, Greg Eldridge’s question and answer session was invigorating, with Eldridge encouraging emerging directors to get out there, pester people and make things happen – just as he had done two years earlier having arrived from Australia without knowing a soul (he is now a director at the Royal Opera House, so not a bad example to go by).

Between attending workshops, a great place to browse was the Marketplace, which was lined with stands run by various theatre companies, institutions and organisations. Many people these days are tending towards training before they work in the business, so this was a great way to talk to the people running the courses and find out whether they were suitable for you. Equally, theatre companies from Paines Plough to the RSC were on hand to discuss opportunities, making it a great way to really get to know these companies on a personal level and find out what exactly they do.

A highlight of the day was the Meet the Experts session, where participants got the opportunity to sign up with a specialist in their field and discuss their career path. I was fortunate enough to sit down with director, Abbey Wright, who gave me invaluable advice, as well as reminding me that forging a career in theatre is as much about holding your nerve as it is talent or experience.

TheatreCraft is a thoroughly worthwhile day, made all the better by the gorgeous surroundings at the Royal Opera House and the sheer enthusiasm of everyone in attendance. And while no one is there to give you the secret code to successfully making a sustainable career in theatre (I swear one day I’ll discover there is one!), and while no amount of good advice will necessarily make the journey any smoother or easier, it is always great to know that you are not alone in wanting to work in the creative arts and equally that there are plenty of pathways and possibilities there for you to grab with both hands.

Photo (c) Alex Rumford

 

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll graduated from University College Dublin in 2012 with a B.A International in English. She is also a playwright, script reader and director. @lisa_carroll46

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Blog: An actor writes – All-female/all-black theatre – a step in the right direction?

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Briony Rawle

Julius Ceasar Donmar Warehouse

As you will have gathered, I am positively a wilting flower when it comes to discussing social issues, and have not in any way been known to bore on and on on Facebook about this article that everyone must read or that petition that everyone must sign. But a friend recently asked me my opinion on all-female, all-male and all-black theatre, and so I bravely overcame my natural reticence and decided to write about it here.

There has been a great deal of this kind of work recently, from all-male theatre company Propeller to Phyllida Lloyd’s recent all-female Julius Caesar and the RSC’s all-black Julius Caesar last year (what is it about that play?). The question is, in an industry still dominated by white male actors in plays about white men, are all-female and all-black productions a help or a hindrance?

Colourblind casting is now supposed to be the norm on the British stage, and things in this department have improved in recent years. However, it’s certainly not universal and there is still a long way to go. My friend wondered what the response would be if people began asking questions at post-show talks like “How does it feel to be in an all-white cast?”. Genderblind casting is still a fairly underused device, and so actresses are still largely shut out of plays written before the idea of writing plays about women was invented. We’re still reliant on a canon of plays from history that were written by white men about white men, so we’ve got to do a bit of waiting until the modern canon of plays by people who realise that women and non-white people exist has a chance to catch up.

To focus on the gender issue for a moment, it is painfully hilarious how many more parts there are for male actors than for actresses, given that two thirds of drama school applicants are female. Most drama schools either take an equal number of both sexes or weight their intake slightly in favour of boys, because boys are more likely to get work and make the school look good. But I can’t imagine that the girls who don’t get in open their rejection letters and go “Oh well, I’d better go and be a solicitor then”. The industry is saturated with women, all of whom know they’ve got to be absolutely at the top of their game because competition is so fierce, and yet women made up only 38% on average of actors working at the top ten theatres in the country in 2012 . At the National Theatre it was only 34%. As if that weren’t enough to split your sides, to complete this statistical set women also make up a perfectly-matching two thirds of West End theatregoers. Chew on that maths for a bit.

Is the answer to this to promote all-female theatre in response, like some kind of battle of the sexes? Surely all-female theatre companies would be just as exclusive as all-male companies, and the same goes for all-black companies? It’s an interesting angle to come at a play from, and it certainly creates more work for female and black actors, but I don’t think it’s a long-term solution to the problem. It’s like having quotas for the executive boards of companies: the minority is still defined by its being a minority, instead of being organically integrated into the whole.

Despite all this, I do believe that the problem is slowly easing, and there are many people in the industry who have an eye on it and are working to improve it. It’s just amazing to me that an institution like the theatre, which is traditionally supposed to represent liberality, social progress and inclusivity, can still be so exclusive. It’s still going to be a long time before people like me can stop boring their friends with this stuff on Facebook.

Photo: The Donmar’s all-female Julius Caesar.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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