10 questions for 10 years – David Mercatali

Director and frequent Philip Ridley collaborator David Mercatali gives a wonderfully frank response to the 10 questions challenge

I think I’ve been reviewing David Mercatali’s shows as long as I’ve been blogging, so I loved the opportunity to find out a bit more about him here. Of those productions that I’ve loved, from the blistering Johnny Got His Gun to Little Light, it’s the striking Radiant Vermin, by Philip Ridley, that ranks as my favourite, I even went to see it in French.  

“We took the show to Bristol, London, New York, Avignon and Paris. It’s still touring in France now! There are so many happy memories from that long journey.

My favourite would be during the first run at the Soho in 2015. I am very very anxious when I watch my shows. I’m even worse now than when I started. Being amongst the audience can be stressful and I always fasten on to the one person I can see who isn’t enjoying it. But on this occasion I was sat on the balcony at the side and could see many of the audiences faces. When the garden party scene (for anyone who didn’t see it, it was an epic physical comedy scene at the end of the play) I decided to watch the audience watch the play. The looks of joy and wonder I’ll never forget. For once in this career I was living in the moment and enjoying the affect my work had.”

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News: #AlsoRecognised Awards shortlists announced

Shortlists for the third annual Also Recognised Awards have been announced by MyTheatreMates, founded by Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock. These audience-voted industry accolades celebrate talent in fields often overlooked by other award bodies. Voting is now open for all categories and closes on Sunday 26th March 2017. Cast your vote at: www.mytheatremates.com/AlsoRecognisedAwards-2017/
 
The aim of the awards is to recognise some of those categories that are sometimes overlooked in other awards – for example, Best Musical Direction is one that is sadly unique to the Also Recognised roster. There’s also a nod to the behind-the-scenes folk with awards for Best Twitter Engagement, Show Trailer and Show Poster recognising the invaluable part that marketing, especially digitally, has to play in the industry.
 
So find the shortlists below and head over to My Theatre Mates to cast your vote. I helped to draw up these lists along with Mark and Terri, Andrew Keates and Mike Dixon, and the rest of the My Theatre Mates collective, and I think the blend of West End, Off-West End, fringe and regional nominees reflects that, so I’ll be most interested to see how the results pan out.

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Review: Tonight with Donny Stixx, Bunker Theatre

“The boy with tricks…”

New venue The Bunker has been rather canny with the programming for its opening season – opting for a couple of Edinburgh hits to ease their way into the public consciousness before giving new British musical Muted its debut. Skin A Cat opened eyes as they opened their doors last month and now it is the turn of Philip Ridley’s similarly arresting Tonight with Donny Stixx

The inimitable characteristics of Ridley’s writing are as complex as Sondheim’s magisterial musical theatre and equally, they respond to creatives who are well-versed in his ways. So regular Ridley director David Mercatali is at the helm of this monologue, (a kind of sibling to Dark Vanilla Jungle) with Sean Michael Verey performing, following on from their collaboration on Radiant Vermin, which also starred DVJ’s Gemma Whelan. Continue reading “Review: Tonight with Donny Stixx, Bunker Theatre”

Re-review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“Enough is never enough…”

Just a quickie for this return of a show that ranked 6th out of the 304 that I saw last year, Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin. Metal Rabbit and Supporting Wall’s production remains an absolute corker as it dissects the contemporary property market and all the societal baggage that goes with it in the most inimitable of ways. This revival returns to the Soho Theatre ahead of a trip to New York but finds itself in the upstairs space rather than the main house, which is a bit of a shame as it doesn’t work quite as effectively here, though ’tis only a minor quibble.

My original review can be read here and much remains true about David Mercatali’s excellent production. There’s added piquancy now in the casting of Scarlett Alice Johnson (a replacement for Gemma Whelan who sadly had to withdraw) as she’s the IRL partner of Sean Michael Verey and so their chemistry is fascinating to behold as their couple submit to the machinations of Debra Baker’s ‘helper’. Definitely recommended whether you caught it last year or no.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th May, then transfers to 59E59 Theatres, New York

Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“I want to do it Ollie. I want more things. Better things.”

The struggles of home ownership seem to be emerging as one of the most popular themes of new plays for early 2015 (Game at the Almeida, Deposit at the Hampstead downstairs) but top of the pile is Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, a highly hilarious and hugely successful sidestep towards the mainstream but one which sacrifices nothing of the unique worldview that marks him as one of our most thought-provoking playwrights. Almost custom-designed to fit into that much abused term ‘darkly comic’, the play probes mercilessly into the depths of human nature in asking how far would we go in order to get our dream home. 

As it turns out, Jill and Ollie – energetic, enthusiastic, expecting – will go to some lengths indeed, making a deal not quite with the devil but with the fairy godmother-like Miss Dee instead, to accept a free home in a scuzzy area with the hope of renovating it, tipping the locale over into up-and-coming status and spearheading a property boom. So far so Saturday Night Takeaway but as with Ant and Dec, there’s a catch (and it is not just their personalities). The young couple quickly find out that that the speediest way to do up their new house is to harness the “radiance” that comes from killing the vermin around them, namely the homeless people from the neighbouring wasteground.  Continue reading “Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

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Television Review: BBC HD Film Shorts

“Why won’t you listen to me”

A bit of random thing that only came to my attention because of a kind soul on Twitter, this collection of five short films from the last few years presented by the BBC Film Network and BBC HD, offered the opportunity to notch up bonus appearances from Andrew Scott and Rafe Spall, as well as appreciating some up and coming filmmaking talent.

Scott’s film is Silent Things in which he plays Jake, a guy with Asperger’s who strikes up an unlikely camaraderie with a quirky teenager, Georgia Groome’s Amy who challenges him to test his boundaries with mixed results and which in turn also threatens his friendship with Charlotte, also autistic and who resents the closeness that Jake is able to achieve with others. Written by Rob Brown and Edward Jackson, it is small but perfectly formed and elevated by all three performances from its leads, not just Scott. Predictably he is excellent, unshaven and more unkempt than we’re used to seeing him, his is a performance of great subtlety leading us to empathise strongly with Jake’s predicament. Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ Charlotte suffers more severely and so is less able to socialise, her bluntness still sensitively portrayed though and the self-determined drive neatly suggested. Groome is also good and altogether, it made for an engaging short piece.

Modern Life is Rubbish was also amongst my favourites here, Rafe Spall and Rebecca Night starring as a recently split-up couple who are going through the traumatic experience of dividing their music collection and ruminating on their relationship, their potential future friendship and what might have been. It is very well written, Philip Gawthorne picking up on so many of the tiny awkward details like attending the same social events after the split, being brutally honest about the things you didn’t like about the other and the ease with which one can fall back into intimacy without even thinking about it. And well performed too, Spall’s traditional music obsessive railing against greatest hits collections and the very existence of the iPod, his bluffness not quite able to mask his breaking heart as Rebecca Night tries to remain pragmatic as the one who has moved out and so not wanting to spend any more time there than is necessary. Continue reading “Television Review: BBC HD Film Shorts”

Review: Moonfleece, Rich Mix

“Don’t heckle a heckler, educate through reasonable debate”

I had certain expectations of Moonfleece, largely influenced by the fact that the BNP had roundly denounced the play even before it had opened at Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix, which is virtually a recommendation in itself, and the opening scenes seemed to confirm them with a group of young men, all members of a far-right political party, converging on an abandoned East London tower block and attempting to turf out a mixed-race squatter. But as the tale unfolds, it becomes apparent that this is a tale of secrets and lies, of bonds between families and friends, and the way in which these can be manipulated to support an ideology, however extreme: the politics is in the background rather than the forefront.

The meeting has been called by Curtis, the stepson of a Nick Griffin-like fascist political leader, in the tower block that was his former family home as he is being haunted by the memories and ghost of his older brother. He has asked his ex Sarah to bring a psychic friend Nina in order to conduct a séance to try and get to the bottom of things, but with her arrival comes a diverse group of her friends, including a gay student journalist, and a strident Indian best friend. Curtis is then forced to confront the major emotional crises of his life, namely the deaths of his father and brother and the circumstances that have led to him adhering to his stepfather’s party and its bigoted credo, throwing up the differences in his current friends, also party members, and the more liberal grouping of friends from his old life, surrounding his ex-girlfriend. And then there’s the squatters with a gift for storytelling, who has a story of particular significance to Curtis. Continue reading “Review: Moonfleece, Rich Mix”