Monday, 11 June 2012


Lyttleton Theatre, London, 9 May 2012

Disclaimer: I like Cillian Murphy. If I'm honest, I quite fancy Cillian Murphy, but mostly, I think he's one of about five actors of his generation who have the talent and drive to continue to create great work beyond (and despite) romantic comedies and silly action films. So this review cannot be considered unbiased. :)

Misterman brings Irish cohorts Murphy and writer/director Enda Walsh back together, since their work on Disco Pigs (on stage and screen). I had heard of Walsh, of course, but hadn't seen any of his work and I've only just received my DVD of Disco Pigs from Amazon. Cillian Murphy, of course, was an entirely different proposition and I have no guilt in saying he was truly the only reason I went to see this play. I first saw him (as most people did), missing half his hair and shouting 'hello' across a deserted Westminster bridge in 28 Days Later. I thought he was hilariously evil in Red Eye, wonderfully arrogant in Inception and deliciously psychotic in Batman Begins. But I loved, loved, loved him in Sunshine. Balancing the rationality of physics with the Nietzschist concepts of the void, all while saving the world from inside wheelie bin-sized space suit - what's not to love?

I was lucky enough to attend a discussion panel hosted by the British Film Institute a couple of years ago. The panel was made up of biologist, Adam Rutherford, scientist, Dr Lucie Green, NZ artist Honor Hargar, Professor Brian Cox (yes, him off the tele) and director Danny Boyle (gosh, what a wonderfully creative and articulate man). The topic was, obviously, the sun, and Boyle's film, Sunshine. Cool science stuff aside, one of the things that stayed with me was the retelling of a conversation that Prof Cox (scientific advisor on the film) had with Cillian Murphy one drunken evening, where they were talking about Capa (Murphy's character) and his final moments in the film, reaching out to touch the very thing he'd studied his entire life. If you'd like to see at least part of this panel, it's available in two parts on the BFI's website and this retelling is at 10 mins 50 secs in part one (spoiler alert for Sunshine, if you haven't seen it!). This was also a brief insight into part of Murphy's process as an actor, as he worked with Prof Cox on the development of Capa, including a trip to CERN, meeting and observing scientists in their natural habitat. NB The cheerful gurgles you can hear in the background are Prof Cox's infant son, George, being bounced by his mum, blogger and producer Gia Milinovich.

So I'd established that Cillian Murphy was a very fine film actor. I suspected that he might also be a very fine stage actor. But I really wasn't prepared for just how fine. Reviews of this nature are always difficult, as you don't want to give away the plot, the pertinent moments, the jokes and the suspense. Misterman is a complex, winding tale, told mostly in flashback, to the soundtrack of recordings made by the play's central character, Thomas Magill. Magill is a lay preacher and self-appointed moral guardian who lives at home with his mum in the quaint Irish town of Inishfree.

Murphy's solo performance is absolutely captivating from minute one. He launches into a frenzied attack, both verbal and physical, on the multi-leveled, crumbling garage set and it is impossible to let go of one second of his story for the next ninety minutes. It's the kind of emotional energy and physical ferocity that leaves the audience breathless and the props mistress in tears.
We meet the varied and flawed inhabitants of Inishfree and establish their relationships with Magill. We find out their secrets, their desires and their musical tastes (there's one particular 80s classic I'll never hear again without smiling). We also discover Magill's desires, his guilt, his frustration with the godless villagers and his own desperate search for acceptance.

Murphy's stage craft is without fault. The technical support is equally flawless, meeting his every step, clap, snap with a sound cue, a lighting cue. The entire set is Murphy's atrophying playground of rusted metal, naked light bulbs and luminous crucifixes, glorious decay, subject to a nightly impassioned barrage at the hands of a fevered evangelist. Pity the poor crew who have to reset every evening!

One-person shows are a source of great fascination for me. I've seen quite a few, but this and one other have stayed with me. The other was Sir Patrick Stewart's interpretation of A Christmas Carol, but it stayed with me for the same reason that Misterman has. When I remember the play, in my mind's eye, I see every single one of the characters as a separate, defined individual. I can tell you what they were wearing, whether they were tall, short, thin, fat, man or woman. But in both cases, there was only EVER one person on stage.

Murphy gives everything in Misterman. He screams, cries, shouts, whispers, spits and sweats and we are left feeling as drained as he looks by the time he takes his curtain call. Walsh's script questions many of the rules society and religion lay out for us and we grow attached to Magill, despite his faults, because in the end, he is only looking for the same thing that all of us are.

Misterman, National Theatre
In the Shadow of the Sun, BFI panel

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Tom Lenk – Nerdgasm

Soho Theatre, London, Friday 7 January 2011

I’m not going to pretend that I have loftier reasons than curiosity for going to see Tom Lenk’s one man show. I know he was in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I liked him in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I liked him enough to start following him on Twitter last year. I liked him enough on Twitter to keep following him, especially when I discovered that aside from his portrayal of the hapless, hilarious and marvellously dweeby Andrew Wells (one of Buffy’s three nemesis-es-es), he’s a theatre nerd. Like me.

tomlenk If you know nothing about Tom, here’s his Wikipedia page for you to go ‘oh yeah, I kinda remember him’ or ‘nope, still don’t know him’, in which case, you’ll just have to trust me.

So, what’s in a one man show by the guy that had a side role in one of the biggest hit shows in American TV? Well, happily, nothing much about Buffy. Or vampires. Despite Lenk’s cheerful embrace of the fact that 90% of his audience (including me) would be Buffy fans, there were only two mentions of the show (and no gossip, because it was, in his words, ‘f**king awesome’ to work on) and one lead into a hilarious reinactment of comments from an online ‘hot or not’ interview he did with a website geared for 12-14 year old girls. Hilarious, mostly, because Lenk is gay. Oh, so wonderfully gay.

Lenk spent a season in the Broadway cast of Rock of Ages last year (introducing me to the term ‘jukebox musical’ which is highly appropriate for those shows that string a series of vaguely-related hits together with a loose plotline), and the bulk of Nerdgasm relates to this period - his (and all theatre nerds’) dreams of Broadway and what it would be like versus the reality of working eight shows a week with a cast who’ve been entrenched in routine for a year.

Lenk’s style is madly over the top, wonderfully pacy and gaspingly gay. But where such campness could alienate a crowd, even a receptive one like this, it is engaging, endearing and vastly enjoyable. He’ll have you in tears of laughter one second, explaining a ‘dreamboard’ he created in high school and close to tears of empathy the next, casually mentioning in the cast member who didn’t speak to him for the entire run and being Photoshop’d out of the cast photo billboards. The show is intensely personal, and insanely hilarious, particularly for those of us with any theatre experience. I worked as a professional stage manager in Australia for 15 years and my chap has been in amateur dramatics since childhood, so we shared Lenk’s dream of creative brainstorms, group hugs and freedom to express yourself and the disillusion of working with jaded professionals for minimum wage, their creativity usurped by producers pandering to reality-TV fed audiences.

It takes considerable skill to engage an audience and even more skill to keep them engaged, but this is something Tom Lenk possesses in bucketloads. His self-effacing attitude to his appearance, sexuality and dance moves (‘muppet arms!’) serve only to drawn you in, eagerly awaiting the next story. British audiences are, in my experience, notably unresponsive during shows, preferring to save their appreciation to the end, and in a tiny space like the Soho Theatre Studio, every pause for breath teeters close to uncomfortable silence. But Lenk slashes through the gaps with asides (‘awkward transition..’) and ploughs into the next segment, hauling us joyfully along with him. Accompanied only by a guitarist, he belts self-penned parodies based on his Broadway experiences, rustles up instant artwork (including some from the audience) and confesses bittersweet tales of life on Broadway.

With continuing appearances in major Hollywood films, Tom Lenk could well become the ‘where have I seen that guy before’ guy, but in my opinion, musical theatre, writing and comedy are his true calling and I have no doubt this is where he’ll continue to shine. Bring it all back to London soon!


Flyboy is alone again at Christmas

Matthew Robins, 1 January 2011
The Pit, Barbican Theatre, London

I first experienced the delight of Matthew Robins’ creations at the (highly recommended) London Word Festival in March last year. We went to see a chap I used to work with some years ago, making pie charts, Terry Saunders (now rather successful at pursuits more creative than making pie charts), who is bloody funny and you should all go and see him.

However, Matthew’s show was quite something else. And, honestly, quite difficult to describe. Imagine a stage with a piano and several musicians, a big white sheet hanging at the back and the featured stage piece – an overhead projector. ‘How old school!’ I hear you proclaim. Well yes, but this projector is being used in way that data analysts and financial managers could never have envisioned.

To tell his wonderful, simple, heart-breaking stories, Matthew uses black cardboard, cut into the most beautiful silhouettes. Puppeteer Tim Spooner, has the unenviable task of getting the next set of silhouettes onto the projector in time to emote in a puppet-like fashion in time with the lyrics. Between Matthew, Tim and the other musicians, they tell the tales of Flyboy, Mothboy and Sad Lucy, a Wicker Cat, snakes, aliens, the Devil, robots and often include a trip to the zoo. The lyrics are simple recitative, dropped over lovely tuneful background melodies, with great arrangements for woodwind, brass and strings. They tell gentle tales of lost love, loneliness and the helpfulness of elephants, particularly when rewarded with buns.

The Barbican show included a Christmas themed story, with our protagonist, therobotzoo RESIZED half-boy, half-fly, Flyboy facing the festive season alone after his family abandoned him and his unrequited feelings for his friend Mothboy go ignored again. Fortunately Flyboy pays a visit to the Planet of the Haunted Snowmen (where snowmen go after they melt), to discover it has drifted too close to the sun and all the snowmen are melting. He saves the day with the help of some passing aliens and a couple of bun-rewarded elephants, dragging the planet far enough away from the sun, and they all enjoy Christmas turkey together.

This is one of a dozen charming stories in the show’s repertoire. There are non-shadow puppet segments, set against a tiny stage on the front of the stage-proper and projected via video onto the big screen. There’s Nosferatu and Me (another trip to the zoo) and the joyful Woolter Knitty, a knitted glove puppet with a wobbly button eye, who hatches dinosaur eggs in his greenhouse (incorporating a slew of paper-and-pipecleaner dinosaurs made by the audience at interval).

While it all sounds like something for the kids, these are themes that fail to leave you in adulthood and the far-from-childish show is a chance to slow down and remember the things that used to please you as a kid. There are darker elements that will slide over the heads of wee ones and strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt left out or left behind. At the same time, Matthew’s creations are filled with happiness, love and hope, the lonely moments cast aside in the glow of friendship and helping one another.

In a world of hi-tech, sophisticated production values, multi-layered storylines and whining adult-problem-themed stories, the beautiful, delicate innocence of Matthew Robins and Flyboy are more than just a breath of fresh air. They are a touch of the magical.
Links (official site)