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Great Britain: Theatre Challenge Review

Theatre Challenge round two!

It’s time for the Entry Pass! Entry Pass is a free scheme that sells £5 tickets to 16-25s- so this was always going to be one of my trips. I decided to use the Pass to see Great Britain, a National Theatre-turned-West-End show that has a gazillion ads on the tube. I roll past these ads everyday on the commute in, and when I saw they had cheap seats, I was suckered straight in.

It’s a satirical look at the dodgy dealings of  the News of the World  a fictional paper, the Free Press. Paige Britain, the cut throat, morality depraved News Editor leads you through the play in a defensive/accusatory tone of voice- that familiar cocky justification of tabloid misbehaviour “it’s what the reader wants!”. In a play that echoes real life, there is no embarrasment about the comparisons being drawn. The Guardianer, ahem, has a tagline “We think so you don’t have to”. The fictional kidnapped girls are the Mills twins, the real kidnapped girl is Milly Dowler. This is a no holds barred show.

We sit in on the editorial meets, follow Paige as she discovers how to hack phones, watch heads of the police departments get very cosy indeed with journalists. The wit is razor sharp and brash- “she suffers from dwarfism” – “You can’t say that!”- “…she enjoys her dwarfism.” and the headlines that emblazon the stage often got bigger laughs than the cast themselves did, a personal favourite being “Immigrants eat swans”. The show is a mesh of barely disguised real-life media scandals, and the whole energy and style is like living in the chaotic mind of a tabloid.

Now. I’m going to straight up come out with it- I wasn’t that impressed. While some of the show is delicious- “Since when did the Free Press publish obituaries?”- “Every day, Diana Princess of Wales”- there is an uglier side. A few racist jokes drop dead on their feet, leaving an awkward silence. Paige breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience it is their fault the go out and ruin lives. Many of what could’ve been big laughs were swallowed up by a near empty theatre and a couple of actors, ludacrisly, just weren’t that good (like the half hearted extra who wanted to get rid of ‘Page Seven girls’ and Kassam, the police commissioner who was exceedingly flat for such a juicy character). The whole cast was led by Paige’s energy, played by a perfect Lucy Punch, who seemed to dredge them up to her level with some difficulty. It’s not what you expect from a play that has been described as “raucously funny”.

One thing that really ground my gears was how empty the theatre was. The cheap seats were on the Upper Circle, but an interval snoop showed me that the auditorium was barely half full. It’s frustrating for us five pound ticketers to sit on the edge, with a chunk of the stage missing, knowing full well that all the good spots are empty, and it must’ve been frustrating for the people who spend small fortunes on the stalls to realise they could’ve bought something for a great deal less and picked a seat when they got here. I definitely think that if a show has massively undersold their night’s tickets, there should be some system to rejig the seating plan to make sure everyone’s getting a fair deal. This play needed either a filled theatre or a nice intimate one, not something halfway in between.

Overall rating is this: I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not bad, so if you have a spare fiver and you can use the Entry Pass, it’s worth an evening, but I wouldn’t bother paying full price. The editorial meetings were the highlight, but the bum notes and accusatory edge bottomed out for me.

 

THEATRE CHALLENGE TOT UP: 

  • Price: £5 using Entry Pass
  • Remaining: £43
  • Shows so far: Two!
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The Merchant of Venice: Theatre Challenge Review

£50 Theatre Challenge is go!

The morning after posting my Theatre Challenge blog, I spotted a free theatre event at Broadgate London by the London Contemporary Theatre group. Big thanks to Londonist who posted on FaceyB about it, would’ve passed completely below my radar otherwise.

The catch was, in return for free theatre, we’d be sat outdoors. In the middle of October, this wasn’t ideal, and would normally have been enough to put me right off. However, a free theatre event popping up in my newsfeed a day after publicly vowing to go to more theatre was too much of a sign to ignore, so I packed my umbrella and a comfy jumper at set off towards Exchange Square.

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I’m really glad I went. What a show. Seated on the steps, scowling at the people savvy enough to bring along a hot chocolate, the set looked pretty impressive, and the benches were filling out quickly. When the cast came on, you almost forgot you were outdoors, instead transported to a psuedo-Venice to follow Bassanio and pals in his quest for love.

The cast were formidable, with a particular shout out due to Portia, played by Claire Cartwright, who rocked the Shakespeare-sassy-woman to perfection. Even when the weather wasn’t playing ball and actors were exposed to the elements, they improvised and incorporated the weather into their act with such ease that I wouldn’t be surprised if the rain was actually a stage direction.

I did learn that if you’re going to go to outdoor theatre, it’s best to try and coerce someone into going with you. It would’ve been really good to have had someone to watch my bags if I needed to nip to the loo/investigate where everyone else is getting their blankets from. In an indoor theatre, I would’ve been more comfortable leaving my bag on the side, but in this every-man-for-himself seating situation and with any number of criminal types passing by unwatched, I was glued to my spot from the moment I put my tush down, and, alas, hot chocolate-less.

The only criticism I have is a funny one. The thing with The Merchant of Venice is, well, it’s probably the most famous anti-Semitic pieces of literature ever produced. Sure, there’s bits in it that preach acceptance- “Hath not a Jew eyes? If you prick us, do we not bleed?”- but for the most part it’s an uncontested anti-Judaism fest. Which, as an audience member, is fine- in that you can view the play critically with the context of Shakespearean London in mind. As a passer-by, however, hearing some of the more outrageous one liners- “Certainly the Jew is the very devil incarnation” might be a bit more than you were expecting on your way home from work.

Out of context shocking one liners aside, as there were only a smattering, it really was a great way to spend a drizzly Thursday evening. My alternative was to head home and scroll through Reddit all evening, and this was definitely more fun.

 

THEATRE CHALLENGE TOT UP: 

  • Price: £0. (Donation £2)
  • Remaining: £48
  • Shows so far: One!
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The £50 theatre challenge

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 I’m going on a mission to see as much theatre in London for £50. 

As is typical of anyone that lives in London, I get that familiar nagging feeling I should do more. You know, see more sights, go on the Eye, meet the Queen. Stuff Londoners are supposed to do.

Thing is, you’re always at risk of letting living in London pass you by. It doesn’t take long for your eyes to glaze over as your bus rolls past Big Ben, for the thrill of jumping through the slamming doors of a tube carriage to wear off. You forget that the rest of the country doesn’t have access to a near unlimited choice of restaurants, that no one else is paying by debit card for a bus journey, that you’re living in a city literally bursting with stuff to see and do and eat. Instead, you put your head down and earphones in.

To combat this weird pseudo-guilt, I’m dedicating £50 of this month’s paycheck to theatre. I’m gonna see as much of it as I can physically (and financially) can fit in. And it’s going to be awesome.

Why theatre? Why £50?

I DO WHAT I WANT THAT’S WHY. Also because I love going to the theatre, and I just haven’t been able to find the time or money to get tickets this last year. There is so much of it in London, and it’s not all £90 tickets for West End musicals. I want to dig out the freebies, the am-dram gems, the Shakespeare and the weird stuff too. I’ve picked £50 because that’s enough to keep it interesting without breaking the bank or restricting myself too much. I’m going to prove that theatre is accessible in London, and that it can be cheap as chips if you know where to go.

The rules:

  1. I have exactly £50 reserved- not a penny more.
  2. I want to see as many shows as possible- I’m not blowing it all on one ticket to see a Jacko impersonator.
  3. If I see a show for free, I will donate £2 to Mousetrap (a children’s theatre charity). This means a maximum possibility of 25 shows.
  4. It has to be a play. This excludes stand-up and cabaret, for instance, but includes musicals, improv and that stuff.
  5. There is no time limit, because sod that.
  6. I can get a ticket from wherever I want, including YPlan, Entry Pass, begging, and winning them at a poker game.
  7. I’mma review every show on the basis of how good it was, whether it was worth the dollar and on whether I’d pay full price for a ticket if it was discounted or free. Also if there were any hot cast members.

The plan

So I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to see upwards of five shows. I’m gonna call it now and say I’ll see 8, though more would be fantastic. The aim is to see at least one West End musical, because they’re the notoriously expensive ones, and for the rest to be as varied as possible.

I’ll try and restrict the ways I find cheap tickets to one per avenue, if that makes sense. I won’t just overdose on YPlan, or only use my under-25 discount five times, because that would be boring and I wouldn’t want to exclude the oldies reading. I’m aiming for one show a week until my funds run out, but don’t hold me to that.

So, there’s nothing more to say now until I actually, well, see a show. So I’ll shut up now and keep you posted. Here’s to the cheap seats!

 

PS: If you want to come with me, please do! I mean, as long as you are in London and don’t plan on stealing all my snacks or feeling me up at the interval, you’re more than welcome to join me. Just let me know and make sure I’ve got you on Facebook/mobile no, and when I find tickets I’ll message out to see if you fancy whatever show I’ve dregded up. 

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Croatia in blue: Split and Braç

I may have only visited a small corner of Croatia, but I can tell you it’s beautiful. Split and Braç (a calmer, lesser known island than Hvar) have a really soft charm, like you’re looking at everything through an Instagram filter. In August, the sun glare gives a slight haze over the coast, and there are a hundred shades of gorgeous, deep blues around you. Naturally, this being a beach holiday, every waking moment was spent on the coastline with a book, a bottle of ice cold lemon beer and a pair of sunnies, gazing out to sea like a lazy sailor. Well, when you weren’t jumping off cliffs, anyway.

 

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Split beach- find a cliff point, jump off, splash land. Rinse and repeat.

 

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This is Supetar marina, on the island Braç . That’s the Croatian mainland looming in the background.

 

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Above is the Split harbour just after sunset. I’m not too great at night-photography, so this photo doesn’t quite capture the purpley-marbled sky, but you definitely get the idea!

 

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I know this kid looks pretty cool, earnestly staring out to sea like a navy-wife, but he was actually a bossy little so and so, ordering his minion friends around in the water below him. Still, who doesn’t love a silhouette!

 

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Split marina, where every bit of cliffside is a sun-worshipping opportunity.

 

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This corker of a church is inside the famous cemetery overlooking Supetar bay.

 

I loved Croatia- and have so much more to say about it, so keep an eye on the blog for my next post :)