This Is Going to Hurt Live, 13, Present Laughter and Noises Off
This Is Going To Hurt Live – Vaudeville Theatre
I recall seeing this show a while back at Soho Theatre, and in its West End incarnation, the show from Dr Adam Kay, a former medical doctor who now works as a writer and performer, is as acerbic as ever, and only marginally longer. I understand more fully, having read through 74 per cent of his book (according to my Amazon Kindle) what people mean when they say the show doesn’t add much to what people have already gleaned from reading the book – indeed, one of my companions on the night I attended was even able to provide further details on the stories Kay told.
But the book doesn’t have the songs he performs in the live show, including several verses set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, in which the audience is invited to guess what it is he’s singing about, and sing the refrain accordingly: “Yellow fever, yellow fever, yellow fever, yellow fe-he-ee-eeee-ver”. Kay is also responsible for a parody of ‘Going Underground’ by The Jam, with lyrics such as “The floors are sticky and the seats are damp / Every platform has a f*cking tramp”. Interestingly, his book refers to his partner as ‘H’, and is referred to as a woman, though his spouse is actually James Farrell, a television executive who has produced Mrs Brown’s Boys for the BBC.
Photo credit: Independent Centre for Actor Training
13 – Jacksons Lane Theatre
I’m still discovering theatre venues in London that I’ve never been to before, and I think I once refused an invitation to review a show at Jacksons Lane because I looked up the postcode and didn’t fancy such a long journey from one end of the Northern line to the other to get back home afterwards. This time I had nothing else on (aside from a gig at the Lytham Festival in Hove, which I didn’t, as it turned out, have a hope in heaven or hell of getting to on time), so I agreed to make the trip up. It’s really not bad, as it turns out, being very close to Highgate Station. The Independent Centre for Actor Training (ICAT to its members, friends and followers) put on an almost black-box production of 13 – not the Jason Robert Brown musical but the play by Mike Bartlett (whose other works include King Charles III and Earthquakes in London).
With a relatively bare set (there were props and, of course, costumes) figuring out where each scene was set in this five-act play (two and a half hour running time including one interval) wasn’t always easy – which bit of 10 Downing Street were various political briefings, meetings and quiet words being held was quite impossible to be sure of. Slightly confusingly an enigmatic man called John is played by a woman (Olu Adaeze), which does at least remove the possible misogyny that might otherwise have arisen when John took Ruth (Amelia Hursey), the Prime Minister, to task in a showdown meeting in which, perhaps all too predictably, the Establishment listens to someone outside their closely knit circle, only to carry on pursuing their original course of action.
Aspects of the narrative are very convincing – a gung-ho United States government is keen to crack on and get on with nuking another country and would like the United Kingdom to join their war effort. Others, however, are bizarre and are probably better placed in a science-fiction dystopia play rather than a socio-political one: people have dreams, or rather recurring nightmares, with ‘monsters’ and ‘explosions’. The play also explores the role of religion and spirituality in the lives of its characters, going as far as to include a discussion (which, quite hilariously for me, descends into chaos) in the context of the Christian education programme The Alpha Course. Some intriguing questions are asked about the (non) workings of government – and while the play is somewhat messy and complicated, this is, I suppose, only indicative of real life.
Suzie Toase, Abdul Salis, Andrew Scott, Indira Varma. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.
Present Laughter – The Old Vic
It’s not gone unnoticed amongst regular readers that I very much enjoyed Bat Out of Hell The Musical, and so when one of its leading lights recommended a show, it only naturally followed that, review schedules permitting, I would go along and see it if the cost wasn’t too prohibitive. The first thing Simon Gordon (who covered the lead role of Strat in ‘BOOH’) did after seeing the Old Vic production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter was book to see it again (funnily enough, I did that at ‘BOOH’ when it played at the English National Opera). I have no shame in admitting that is the sole reason for considering this particular show.
These days the Old Vic’s pricing structures mean that I usually give it a wide berth – the last thing I paid to see at this venue was a production of the Cole Porter musical High Society in 2015. The theatre had emailed repeatedly since then, fundamentally saying words to the effect of ‘Please come back, we miss you’ – well, I might have done so sooner if it didn’t cost so much to sit anywhere half-decent. Considering this is a comedy play, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I ought to have done (and I like Coward’s material even if it does almost always involve the clipped tones of the British Pathé newsreels). What on earth was Monica Reed (Sophie Thompson) saying? Hers was a highly exaggerated regional accent, but which region? The last lines between Liz (Indira Varma) and Garry (Andrew Scott) were totally indecipherable for some reason. (It could have been me not getting any younger and all that, but I could hear the rest of the play.)
A notable difference here is that Joanna Lyppiatt (she/her) is now Joe Lyppiatt (he/him) (Enzo Cilenti), which, aside from a more explicit acknowledgement of Coward’s own lifestyle, doesn’t add much, if anything, to the production (apart from making three characters essentially bisexual). Scott puts in a very energetic performance that is almost exhausting to watch. Joshua Hill did well as Fred, the valet who basically gets bossed about and enters and leaves only when instructed, making the best out of a relatively minor role. Luke Thallon is utterly sublime as Roland Maule, the would-be writer who has zero understanding of the meaning of the word ‘no’. Enjoyable enough overall, so thanks to Simon for his recommendation, and I’m glad I saw it, but I shan’t be following in his footsteps and booking for a repeat visit.
Meera Syal in Noises Off at Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks.
Noises Off – Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
Noises Off is always a good laugh, so long as the cast are well rehearsed, which is a perennial irony for this show, because it’s about a show (called Nothing On), a touring production that has had a woefully short rehearsal period, and it shows. Apparently, on press night, the lights at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith went off unexpectedly, and a stage manager went on to apologise for a technical hitch. Such is the ridiculous nature of Noises Off, partly about the antics and chaos of what goes on backstage during a performance, that some people (presumably those who hadn’t seen it before) thought the ‘actual’ pause in proceedings was all part of the script.
As ever, the same first act of Nothing On is performed three times over, the first time during a dress rehearsal, the second from the perspective of backstage mid-way through the production’s UK tour, and the third once more towards the end of the run. Thus, according to the programme, “There will be an interval of 15 minutes between Act One and Act One. There will be no interval between Act One and Act One.” Meera Syal stood out for me, switching effortlessly between Mrs Clackett, a Cockney-esque ‘ousekeeper, and Dotty Otley, the sort who says ‘Oh hello’ as ‘Air hair lair’.
Jonathan Cullen does well as Frederick Fellowes – when given a pep talk about why a particular prop had to be moved by his character from A to B at a specific moment by Nothing On director Lloyd Dallas (Lloyd Owen, whose voice was suitably authoritative), he responds as though his life had just been saved. The various front of house calls are as hilarious as always (three minutes, two minutes, back up to three minutes, and so on), resulting in Lloyd bursting in yelling “What the f*ck is going on?” It was great to see this show back on in London again, and particularly so at Lyric Hammersmith, where it debuted nearly forty years ago.