King Lear

It feels like summer has started, now that I’ve made my first visit of the year to the Globe to see King Lear (even if it was a bit chilly…).

A couple of years ago, working Front of House at the West Yorkshire Playhouse while at Uni, I wondered how I would cope with seeing their production of King Lear (3 hours and 10 minutes) three times in a fortnight. But the production kept my attention for all nine and a half hours. It featured an amazing cast, led by Tim Piggott-Smith as Lear. James Garnon, as Edmund, had a natural way of conveying Shakespeare that I’ve only seen surpassed by David Tennant. And as Edgar, Sam Crane’s physical and vocal transformation to Poor Tom was astonishing. I also found it a useful undertaking. The first time of watching I had to concentrate on following the plot, while the second and third viewings allowed me to focus more on the performances and appreciation of the language.

It also gave me a good grounding from which to see the Globe’s touring production. The multiple roles taken on by each member of the cast made it slightly hard to follow, and I imagine if I was coming to the play for the first time I would have relied heavily on the synopsis in the programme. Despite this, the production was full of committed and energetic performances, and the actors dealt well with their transitions between characters. They also made the most of minimal props and set, although inevitably the touring production wasn’t as well suited to the space as the Globe’s normal output.

The impact of the play’s tragic finale was somewhat undermined by the customary song and dance at the end of the performance, but the audience certainly enjoyed it and the play received enthusiastic applause. While perhaps not as in-depth as the WYP version, this is a solid and engaging production.

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The Go-Between

Last year I fell in love with the musical adaptation of The Go-Between at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and have been meaning to read the book since. Although I still haven’t got round to it, when I saw that a radio adaptation was being broadcast this week I was interested to see how it compared to the musical.

As well as being excellent in its own right, the radio adaptation brought back memories of the musical, which had a beautiful score that perfectly captured the emotions of the story. Being on radio, I was able to apply my memories of the musical to the adaptation; my view of it may have been different if I hadn’t seen the musical or if I had read the book.

While the musical’s set conjured a beautiful sense of the period, one of the benefits of radio drama is its ability to create a framework around which the listener constructs their own ideas. The simplicity of radio drama lends itself both to pared-down storytelling and to dramas set in lavish locations, or which would require extensive special effects (such as The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I find the power of the audience’s imagination fascinating; just as theatre productions with the most minimal sets and props can be the most effective, radio is perhaps the most diverse dramatic medium and provides endless possibilities.

The Go-Between explores the theme of entrapment, whether by family duty, societal expectations or personal feelings. Marian’s mother is plagued by worries over her daughter’s impending nuptials while Marian is forced into an unwanted marriage, and her duty prevents her from pursuing her relationship with the famer Ted. Meanwhile both Ted and Marian force Leon into continuing as their ‘go-between’, playing on his devotion to Marian and disregarding his discomfiture. It is this involvement of a child, who cannot comprehend their affair, that results in the final tragedy.

While I felt that the drama was very good, it was perhaps less emotionally engaging than the musical. This may have been due to the excellent music, or the presence of a real person on stage putting a face to the voice. However, I feel that it was probably down to the fact that although the musical also told the story from the viewpoint of Leo, the other characters received further elaboration than was allowed in the radio drama and the audience therefore felt a greater investment in them. Despite this, standing on its own Radio 3’s The Go-Between remains an interesting and emotive look at love and deception at the turn of the twentieth century.

Loserville

Loserville is the new musical opening at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, created by Elliot Davis and James Bourne (of Busted and Son of Dork). Set in 1971, it tells the story of computer geek Michael Dork as he sets out to crack communication between computers while falling in love.

The show has an interesting aesthetic, with a metal frame set complemented by boards carried by the ensemble. While distracting at first, this technique was often used effectively to represent everything from a house to a QWERTY keyboard. All the cast gave enthusiastic performances, but while Gareth Gates’ casting has been used to pull in audiences it is Aaron Sidwell as Michael, Eliza Hope Bennett as Holly and Lil’ Chris as Francis whose performances stand out.

The production aims at a wide target audience, from teenage fans of Gareth Gates to those who remember the ‘70s, and the night I went there was a variety of people in the audience. While the musical would be entertaining enough for anyone I think that it will probably be most appreciated by those who were a fan of the Busted/ Son of Dork music of the early noughties. You can certainly tell that the music is by an ex-member of Busted, and roughly half of the songs are taken from the album Welcome to Loserville by Bourne’s band Son of Dork. While cheesy the songs are easy to listen to, and have been growing on me since I saw it (partly due to the fact that I haven’t been able to get them out of my head for the last couple of days).

This is Bourne’s first venture into writing for theatre, accompanied by veteran Davis, and while Loserville is not ground-breaking it has a certain charm about it. I only saw this at a preview, but it definitely has potential.

Kids Week, and A Night Less Ordinary

Having spent the best part of an hour this morning attempting to navigate the very busy Kids Week booking system, as well as my equally busy diary, I am now looking forward to seeing Les Mis and Singin’ in the Rain with my younger sister this summer. Kids Week (which offers free theatre tickets to children accompanied by adults paying full price, as well as events and activities) is a great example of the continuing interest in engaging a new generation in theatre.

Although some of my friends attend the theatre sporadically, and one of my best friends is as addicted to theatre as I am, there are also lots of young people who don’t consider theatre as something that could be relevant to them. Many are intimidated by the prospect of attending the theatre, which is something I can relate to; even as an avid theatre-goer I was somewhat intimidated by the Royal Opera House’s grand décor and smart-looking clientele when I visited aged 18 to see Romeo and Juliet. But once inside the production was amazing, and if people dared to venture inside a theatre a new world would be opened up to them (also, most theatres are not as posh as the Royal Opera House!). The National Theatre has an inviting atmosphere and is home to a café, bars, and there is always an exhibition or musical performance to enjoy (although it is a bit of a maze). As the National Theatre turns Inside Out this summer its outside festival programme is bringing free and accessible entertainment to the South Bank. The outside venue creates an informal atmosphere and is sure to attract passersby.

As ticket prices continue to rise cost is also a barrier preventing many young (and older) people from attending the theatre. Yet many theatres have schemes offering cheap tickets for under-25s. The National Theatre’s Entry Pass scheme offers £5 tickets for all of its productions and often these are excellent seats. Although I think that this is the most generous scheme, especially considering the number of productions staged each season, there are many other theatres offering cheaper seats to young people, including The Old Vic, The Barbican and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. C145 is a brilliant scheme which not only offers under-18s the chance to see productions for £5 but in doing so also encourages them to attend a wider variety of performances than they might otherwise have done.

As well as these schemes there are also opportunities for everyone to have affordable access to quality productions. The Globe’s standing tickets are only £5, while the National Theatre’s Travelex season offers £12 tickets for many performances. Many West End theatres also sell day tickets which can be an affordable option for those with the time to queue.

A Night Less Ordinary (the Arts Council’s 2009-2011 pilot scheme to encourage theatre attendance among the under-26s by offering free tickets) demonstrates the importance of attracting a younger audience. The evaluation report found that while the majority of tickets were given to young people who said that they would probably not have visited the theatre had it not been for ANLO 92% of participants enjoyed the experience and 88% said they would pay to go again and would recommend theatre to friends and family; this clearly demonstrates the potential audience that young people offer.

Furthermore, participating venues believe that taking part has helped them to engage with young audiences and 41% of venues said the scheme had brought them commercial benefits through tickets sold to those accompanying free ticket holders and extra merchandise sales. The report suggests that ANLO is also partly responsible for the continuing development of the many membership and discount schemes for young people. The high success rate of ANLO demonstrates the importance of these discount schemes in developing and retaining an audience for the future.