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The Cherry Orchard: Theatre Challenge Review

As the world’s newest theatre critic, I had to see me some proper theatre. You know, the stuff they made you study at GCSE.

Having seen that The Young Vic had some cheeky cheap seats, I chirpily booked myself on to see The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. The Young Vic offers “Standing seats” for around a fiver. Thankfully, a “Standing Ticket”, doesn’t mean you’re watching from the wings with leg cramp- you have to wait with the other paupers until the people who paid for specific seats are settled in, then run in to nab the best remaining- which I guess is risky business, but I got a pretty good view.

I have to admit, I’ve always fancied myself as one of those luvvie types who can quote the rest of the Hamlet “To be or not to be” soliloquy. I’m also the type to call it a “soliloquy”, rather than “speech”. You get the idea.

The thing is, I’m not a very good one. I’d never heard of Anton Chekhov, or The Cherry Orchard. I had no idea what to expect, and had no idea how big this play is. With this in mind, please take my interpretation with a pinch of salt. I resisted every urge to google it all afterwards, so these are purely my own, poorly informed thoughts.

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Okay. We’re transported to Russia, inside a big ol’ crumbling house. There’s this poor pretty servant girl and two wispy daughters, all freaking about “Mummy” returning. I’m going to keep calling her “mummy”, despite this being creepy, as I cannot recall her name ever being used.

From what we can glean at this point, Mummy is returning from some ill-thought-out affair in Paris. Everyone’s stressed that returning to this house will trigger her grief for her son that drowned there. Oh, and Mummy is broke now. Scene.

On scurries Mummy and the rest of the family, and for the next hour an a half, I cannot even begin the describe the plot. It’s small instances of complex conversations that I’m sure have meaningful metaphors going on, all linked by inexplicably running everywhere. One dude proposes a toast to a bookcase, Mummy breaks down a couple of times, for some reason everyone is really mean to the frail old butler, and people are constantly referencing being broke-ass-hoes but still find the pennies to pay for a Jewish band to do a gig in their living room. There’s a brief earthquake, a few existential moments, and a bit where the governess stalks across the stage butt naked. She later shouts “I don’t even know how old I am” and takes a bite out of a cucumber before stalking offstage. I’m not sure she was part of the cast, come to think of it.

Ultimately, the house and the estate gets bought out by some douche who is probably the only guy that makes sense the whole play. His assistant then beats up and (spoiler alert) locks the old frail butler in the house as everyone drives off and The Cherry Orchard is chopped down.

 …Don’t ask me.

After thirty minutes of staring baffled at the stage, I decided to just accept that I would’ve enjoyed the play more if I’d read about the plot beforehand, and allowed myself to be immersed in the strange, bizarre intensity.

I had a few semi-intelligent thoughts throughout. Ah, this is demonstrating the significance of financial power in relationships. Ooh- isn’t the class divide stark, etc. Mostly, I spent the whole time questioning why everyone walks really fast. Like really fast. Even if they’re only travelling from one corner of the stage to the next, they fucking sprint. Why? Is this also a metaphor? Who knows.

Ultimately, it was a fiver well spent, and I would recommend it if you’re a) well into Russian class systems or b) up for flexing your brain muscles a bit.

THEATRE CHALLENGE TOT UP: 

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Ox Pasture Hall, Scarborough

When Ox Pasture Hall Hotel invited me to stay I was in deep, desperate need of some countryside. It also nicely coincided with my boyfriend and I’s second year anniversary, giving me another excuse to go running into the welcoming arms of this gorgeous country manor.

Just out of Scarborough, Ox Pasture Hall is tucked away from the coast in those perfect, autumnal Yorkshire settings. No flashing signs, no roaring main roads. The only noise was the laughter from the bar and the occasional rowdy cow (literal cows, not a brassy woman). We arrived just as the sun started to dim, and as the wind whipped round us (we are on the coast, after all), the glow of the hotel looked picture-perfect welcoming. Gah, this is exactly what you want from a Yorkshire getaway.

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After dumping our bags and the obligatory jumping on beds, we pottered around the grounds and said hello to the cows. The grounds were my favourite thing about the hotel- I love scouting out all the cool little touches and going on mini-expeditions in the immediate area to build up an appetite and get some of that fresh air stuff in my lungs. You’re set in absolutely gorgeous surroundings, so if you go (and you should), take a camera and a pair of sturdy shoes!

The hotel itself is an old country house, filled with log fires, thick comfy couches and, of course, that famous Yorkshire hospitality. The staff were impeccable- we were treated like royalty from the minute we walked in. Makes a change from being sneered at by Londoners all day!

Our room was ENORMOUS. We’d been put into a suite, so had two king size bedrooms to choose from. After ip-dip-do we settled on a the slightly smaller one for the sole reason that it was slightly further away from our noisy cow-neighbours(!). We were in the newer building, which was lovely but didn’t quite have the same feel as the more earthy charm of the older parts of the building, but did have the added bonus of getting a great seat for sunset.

We booked into the restaurant, skipping Scarborough’s best fish and chips for what turned out to be one hell of a dinner. A four course lesson in proper Yorkshire Masterchef-level food, we were blown away by the quality of food (and service!). I had a carrot and coriander soup, the duck confit salad, the lamb, and the lemon assiette, washed down with the silkiest Carmenere ever. They looked fantastic, and judging by the sounds coming from our table, tasted gorgeous. I mean, just look at their menu. Both Jonathan and I needed a good lying down after all that, so crawled back to our room and into bed, ready for the best night sleep, literally ever.

In the morning, we walked the wonderfully named Dog Bark Bend route through the North Yorkshire Moors, stopping for a cheeky selfie and to stroke passing pets-on-walkies.

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When I used to think of Scarborough, I thought of those tacky seaside resorts that the British just can’t help loving. Ox Pasture Hall couldn’t be further from that stereotype- it’s a warm, hearty bit of luxury. I’d absolutely recommend it, especially for a romantic weekend getaway. Hey- they even do weddings- so if you’re marriage-inclined it’d be a really, really cute place to tie those knots.

Have a poke through their website, and if you’re looking for a country break, do yourself a favour and book in here.

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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!