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Originally published at lastminutetheatretickets.com.
The Pajama Men is a comedy duo comprised of Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez. The two met in high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico while auditioning for an improv team and have been developing their own special brand of comedy ever since. This show, Just The Two of Each of Us has already thrilled audiences at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
As the lights dim, we cast our eyes on the sparse stage filled only with two chairs, a keyboard and a guitar. The Pajama Men enter wearing pyjamas (Pajamas in US English), as you would expect, with comfortable socks in strong colours. What follows starts out as the two standing there throwing out dry and deadpan lines, before starting what appears to be a sketch comedy, switching rapidly between characters and situations, one more bizarre than the other.
We have people running from beasts, actors warming up, a medieval king with his servant, a rather awkward date due to the frequent failures of a fake arm, a larger than life man with a motorcycle to whom everything is ‘Too easy!’, cops, horses, a gay couple having a ridiculous argument and eventually a monster – it’s impossible to really describe as it’s pure physical comedy. The two play with accents, different voices, sound effects and situations that are absurd. One scenario is two characters in a boat – one passed out, the other one rowing. The rower makes the sound of something dropping into water, he has lost his oar. Another is a conversation between two horses where one gets a bit more friendly than the other one appreciates.
The Pajama Men are joined on stage by a musician who sets the musical backdrop to their crazy antics, and somehow manages to not draw attention to himself by cracking up at the madness in front of him – which is more than I can say for the Pajama Men themselves, who frequently crack each other up. Of course, when you have a show that relies this heavily on improv, unexpected things will always happen. This is a show that clearly evolves night by night, and the two comedians push each other as far as they possibly can. One has to wonder if it eventually will go that one step too far and lose the audience by being too self-indulgent in the improv, but I suspect if that ever did happen, they’d manage to reel themselves back in and continue on down the narrative path.
Because there is a narrative, all the crazy threads start coming together and you realise not only is there a storyline, but the image on the show poster is a very accurate depiction of the show. The Pajama Men are playing with little figures like children, creating a bizarre but charming world that is at the same time unreal and very logical. It’s a bit like the kind of story a child might write with their toys that are from different sets and don’t really go together in an obvious way, but they’ll make fun out of it anyway. The show is a bit like that, it’s two grown men playing, and we get to watch. It’s a funny and odd show, somewhere between stand-up comedy and a play. It’s not for everyone, but if you like dry, deadpan humour with characters and physical comedy, you’ll have a really good night.
The Pajama Men – Just The Two Of Each Of Us is playing at the Arts Theatre for a limited season until November 23rd. The show is just over an hour and has no interval.
The Pajama Men Official website www.pajama-men.com
Arts Theatre http://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/
Originally posted at Lastminutetheatretickets.com
The story of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is well known from the beloved children’s novel by Roald Dahl: a poor, malnourished child living in destitute lucks out and finds a golden ticket to visit the magical world of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, after which his life will never be the same again. This new musical adaptation playing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, a book by award-winning playwright and adaptor David Greig and is directed by Sam Mendes, also known for his hugely successful movies including Skyfall and American Beauty.
After a delightful animated introduction to how chocolate is made, we start the show with young Charlie Bucket rifling through trash looking for treasures to take home to his family. The young actor is wonderful and does a great job with the character, although it would have been nice to see some more complexity to Charlie who is poor and hungry. His relationship with his family, including the four grandparents sharing a bed, is wonderful and believable. The storytelling scene which includes bed choreography is very enjoyable and the grandparents are wonderful. You don’t really get the sense that this is a family that is suffering from poverty and hunger until the weary parents of Charlie return home with no money.
The family watches the news of the golden ticket with its forthcoming prize to five lucky children on a television set that is powered by electricity generated by Charlie’s father peddling on a bike. Behind the Bucket home set appears a massive television, that opens to reveal each of the four finders of the golden tickets from around the world. This section is in part very funny – Mike Teavee’s mother is especially wonderful – but is also a bit too long. The kids are great to watch but it is at times difficult to make out what they’re saying, in particular the two that are rapping who are hard to make out.
As four tickets are found, Charlie falls into despair, that no stories or comfort from his parents can get him out of, and you feel for this young couple who are struggling to keep seven people alive on very little money. The duet by the parents where they both sing that the other would know how to make them feel better is one of the most moving moments of the show, and this number more than anything brings their desperate situation more to the surface, something the show otherwise takes a very shallow view of.
But wait! Lady luck drops a pound note and Charlie buys himself a chocolate, which as we all know contains the final golden ticket. It is finally time for what we’re all here to see, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
The biggest problem for the show is that we have to wait far too long for Willy Wonka to appear, which he doesn’t until the very end of the first act. He is however worth the wait, and is every bit as mental and magnificent as you expect. Douglas Hodge as Wonka is charismatic and unhinged, at once genius and a bit frightening.
The second act is our visit to the chocolate factory, where one by one the children don’t listen to warnings and end up in trouble they will never quite recover from. I will leave it to the audience to discover how the show solves how to shrink a child and put him into a television, make another into a massive blueberry and get a third to be attacked by squirrels, suffice to say it’s really well done and the audience loved it.
The ensemble of Oompa-Loompas is hilarious. The actors are adult normal sized actors with some magic applied to them to make them look half their size. Every one of them is bursting with energy and joy, and with great choreography you enjoy every moment they are on stage. There are great moments from the minor characters as well, as Mike Teevee’s mother gets more neurotic through the visit to the factory, her eventual breakdown and dance with the Oompa-Loompas is a thing of beauty.
This adaptation for the stage is stunning to look at. The sets, from the detailed mess of the Bucket household to the outstanding rooms in Willy Wonka’s factory are some of the best you can see in the West End today. It was movie magic for the stage, with great detail and care. The audience was awestruck at moments, particularly when a paper plane flew across the room. So simple, and so effective.
But with all its magic, the show seems a bit too shallow, especially in how it approaches the poverty of the Bucket family. In our present time where poverty is becoming a bigger issue, sitting in a West End theatre where it’s played for laughs seems cruel. Instead of being impressed with how the Bucket family are coping with their lot, you never get a feeling that this is a family that is actually starving, which is very clear from the book, where Charlie has the first of two chocolates in a manner of inhaling it, because he is so hungry he can’t slow down.
Sure, this level of reality doesn’t work well on an evening out with the family, and the audience jumped to their feet for a standing ovation at the end of the show, which is something you don’t often see on a Monday night. All in all it’s a solid show, and the second act is a lot of fun, which not even a delayed start due to technical problems could bring down.
Originally posted at Last Minute Theatre Tickets.
The story starts with the arrival of Rose and Michael, the executor of her mother’s will who is a married man in his 40s. It becomes apparent immediately that the two are lovers, a fact that does not fail to register with Rose’s relatives, the strict Helen, her sister Teresa and their brother James, a priest who is in a wheelchair. Helen is determined to keep the two apart.
The chemistry between Rose and Michael is vital to make this story believable, and sparks truly fly between the two. At one point Rose sucks on Michael’s finger, while looking up at him with eyes that sparkle with desire, and the way they keep sneaking touches behind people’s backs feels realistic despite the age gap.These small intimate moments have looks filled with promises and you feel they are just one touch away from losing control and ripping each others’ clothes off.
The oldest character, Teresa, is masterfully played by Caroline Blakiston. Teresa is kept in the dark about what transpires around her for most of the play, and while her confusion is part comic relief that works, there’s a gentle desperation to her when she realises she is being kept in the dark. Teresa is in ways the heart of the play, the gentle soul that finds strength and when she finally takes charge, it is powerful to everyone around her.
Diane Fletcher’s Helen is a very complex character who appears trapped by her religious piety and fear of death. She displays a strong need to control everyone around her, and manipulates Rose into staying with the family. You have to wonder how she grew to become like this, and if she has the capability of opening up to grief and fully dealing with emotions, which appears to be what she fears the most.
But the meat of the play is with Father James. His conversations with Rose, which are increasingly honest and without judgement, are at the same time thought provoking and amusing. Rose attempts to shock him, but as a Catholic priest who used to take confessions, he has heard everything and instead of talking down to her he challenges her and makes her think. Unfortunately that’s the last thing Rose wants, she wants to be told what to do. You feel for Father James, who wants more than anything to be able to help someone again, and has gotten a second chance to be useful by being there for Rose.
In some ways, Rose is a very passive character. She is determined and strong against her Aunt Helen, but when it comes to love she is inexperienced and naive, and when she can no longer hide from the reality of the consequences of her affair with a married man, she cannot cope.
Every character goes through a journey of growth through the play, and as you leave the theatre you find yourself wanting to stay a bit longer and see what happens to all of them next. There are many questions left unanswered, just like in life. It isn’t wrapped up with a neat and tidy happy ending, instead you feel you’ve seen something that at the core of it feels real.
If there’s one thing to criticize, it’s the odd choice of having the actors sitting with their backs to the audience during some scenes. It’s more difficult to grasp a character’s thought process when you don’t see their faces. It also takes away some of the magic when the paralysed priest keeps moving his legs under the blanket. But these are minor nitpicks on an otherwise very interesting and engaging production.
The Living Room was written by Graham Greene in the 1950s, and this is the first major revival of the play.
Review by Tori Jo Lau
THE LIVING ROOM by Graham Greene
Directed by Tom Littler
Set Design by Cherry Truluck
Lighting Design by Tim Bray
Sound Design by George Dennis
Costume Design by Emily Stuart
Caroline Blakiston, Emma Davies, Diane Fletcher, Tuppence Middleton, Christopher Timothy and Christopher Villiers.
Primavera has assembled an outstanding all-star cast for this revival.
Christopher Timothy, well known for his roles as James Herriot in All Creatures
Great and Small and Mac McGuire in Doctors, plays Father James Browne, Rose’s uncle.
Her aunts Teresa and Helen are played by distinguished actors Caroline Blakiston (Brass and, previously at Jermyn Street Theatre, Black Bread and Cucumber) and Diane Fletcher (House of Cards).
Rising star Tuppence Middleton (Tormented, Cleanskin, and the BBC’s forthcoming The Lady Vanishes) makes her theatre debut as Rose.
Mr and Mrs Dennis are played by Christopher Villiers and Emma Davies, both widely known from their extensive television and stage work.
Originally published at Last Minute Theatre Tickets.
Great Expectations, now playing at the Vaudeville Theatre, is based on the novel by Charles Dickens, a work that has seen many adaptations on the big and small screen.
The story is played out on one set, a decaying room filled with cobwebs and dust, with parts of the wall fallen off to make an interesting point of entry for characters. The set is impressive, but unfortunately all of the action takes place around this one set, centred on a massive dining table, which characters walk around, go over and sometimes perform on top of.
The cobweb theme continues through the play as all the characters apart from the adult Pip are covered in dust, made up like ghosts and look more like they’re off to a Halloween party. It takes a bit away from the characters and at times it appears a bit silly, especially when Pip is dressed up in his gentleman clothes and there is a gigantic cobweb on the back of his jacket. Is it so that everything in the play matches the decaying room of Havisham? I suspect so, but it doesn’t entirely work.
What also doesn’t work is having the adult Pip present as the narrator on stage for the entire play. You feel really sorry for Paul Nivison after a while, as he is on stage nearly the whole play with no other purpose than reacting to the other actors, and pausing to narrate. It looks dreadfully boring, and it’s not great to watch. The problem with the running narration is that we as an audience are told important plot points rather than shown them, especially in the first act where the performers keep going from one side of the stage to the other doing quick scenes to get through the important parts with narration to set us up for the second act where Pip is in his gentleman training. It feels very rushed and is difficult to follow.
The play calms down in the second act where more time is spent with the characters and their growth, and you have moments where the play gets very interesting, although the ending is a let down, as is the lack of chemistry between our Pip and Estella.
The highlight of the play is Chris Ellison as Magwitch, who is believable and engaging. While his character is one of a criminal, in the end he’s the one you sympathise the most with as you learn how much he has lost. A good second is Josh Elwell as Joe Gargery, who you can’t help but feel pity for, as he remains upbeat while living with a frankly verbally abusing wife.
The play is in the end mostly let down by a messy script and direction, you can see the actors trying their hardest to make it engaging, but it’s difficult to care too much when you have seen so little character development. It was unfortunate for the show also that an audience member was taken ill in the last five minutes of the show, which meant an abrupt pause while it was determined the audience member was okay. They then cracked on with great professionalism and finished the play’s last minutes.
It is not an outright bad show, but with a work as immense and powerful as Great Expectations can be, you can’t help but expect a bit more.
Originally posted at Last Minute Theatre Tickets
American Justice is a play set in America written by a British playwright, set during the days of the Obama administration from 2008 when Obama won the election until 2016 when his second term will end. The entirety of the play takes place inside a prison. The cast comprises of two guards, a warden, an inmate and a visitor.
We first meet Herb Stevens (David Schaal), an overweight warden who comes across as a bit of a cliché Southern republican. He makes sure everything is in order along with his two wardens, who watches the room in the prison from the balcony. They then let in John Daniels (Peter Tate), a politician who has just been elected to congress. He is there to meet Lee Fenton (Ryan Gage), a prisoner serving life for the murder of Daniels’ daughter. Daniels is at the prison with a mission – he wants to educate Fenton and has been granted permission to do so by the courts.
The play chronicles three meetings between the two men, coinciding with election years. The first meeting takes place in 2008, the second in 2012 and the third in 2016. What has happened in the time between the meetings? How has the relationship between the men changed? And finally, what will happen after the last meeting we witness? American Justice leaves a lot to interpretation, with just hints to fill in the blanks of how the characters got to where they are when we see them.
It is a bit refreshing to go and see a short play. American Justice clocks in at 75 minutes, slightly less than your average animated family movie. It can be good to see a story unfold without the break of the interval, and if done well it can keep the intensity up. On the other hand, it can be a bit too shallow a dig into a story, and at times American Justice suffers from this.
Without spoiling the end, the play’s last minutes reveals information and character motivation that makes you see the play from start to finish with a different point of view. It is not a particularly surprising twist, but it’s interesting to see where the play takes it.
More than anything it’s a thrill to see the dynamic between the two characters as it changes over time, and how Fenton changes into a very different man by the end, while still keeping his edge. Fenton is never tamed, his anger remains under the surface, but by controlling it and himself he becomes much more powerful and interesting. Daniels on the other hand fades, and his desperation or grief never hits you emotionally in the way Fenton’s rage does. It is an interesting moment when Fenton points out that Daniels never did come across as a grieving father, and turns the tables on him.
As Fenton is led out of the room a final time, he smiles. You leave the theatre without clear answers and have to make up your own opinions, after seeing a play that kicks in both liberal and conservative directions, without offering a solution. It is a somewhat frustrating end, but much more interesting to take away than if it was neatly tidied up.
This play will not appeal to everyone and is likely to feel dated in only a few years as we approach the later years depicted in the play, especially if it turns out reality and fiction are very different to each other. It failed to wow the patron to our left as he fell asleep towards the end and managed to get a few loud snores out before his companion shook him awake. And I suppose you can argue that not that much happens in the play, which is basically three meetings in the same sparse room. But it is an interesting character piece that asks questions that are relevant to where we are at this moment in time, and makes the point that is easy to agree with for us in Europe: that criminals should be educated and rehabilitated rather than just punished.
American Justice is playing until February 9 at the Arts Theatre. If you like intense material with a strong political foundation, this is a good one to go see.