Four days in London. Four pieces of theatre.

First up Cans by Stuart Slade at Theatre503. In brief this is the story of how family members cope with the aftermath of a celebrity sex abuse case such as have been prominent in the UK recently. In this case the man is found not guilty, but subsequently kills himself. His brother and his daughter comprise the characters trying to come to terms with this. The play could easily not work. Graham O’Mara is an absolute star, whose perfectly hilarious and sad performance ensures the success of the play. Apparently Slade has worked a lot with O’Mara:

So far I’ve written five plays, and Graham O’Mara’s been in all of them. I always write a part specifically for him, because he’s just the most incredible actor – spectacularly funny, crazily versatile, and brilliant to work with. This Week London

The daughter, played by Jen Clement, is the straight man. I gather Slade wanted her for the part and expects great things of her in the future. I couldn’t tell that. It isn’t an easy job, playing a role like that where one is the foil for the main character, but nonetheless, I did not get excited by her performance. I felt like O’Mara had to be there, whereas the daughter could have been anybody.

Well done, Theatre503. We got 3 tubes, a train and then jogged for a couple of kms in the rain to get there and it was totally worth it.

The next night could scarcely be a greater contrast. Sonnets by Shakespeare held in the archaeological dig that is the Rose Theatre. At some point this will become a nice modern theatre whilst keeping in some way with its past – it was built in 1587. But for now it is some temporary seats next to a large pool of water, no heating, no loos. Wonderfully atmospheric, which was nicely exploited by Martin Parr: I can’t help thinking we got to see it at is best. The sonnets themselves were performed by Katherine Heath and Lucia Capellaro, who gave the them the urgent immediacy of Shakespeare’s plays; Parr’s organisation turned them into a story, a very moving one at that. A really nice combination, music that fitted in, all in all a bargain at twelve pounds.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing something at Finsbury Park theatre, a great addition to this London suburb. Man to Man by Manfred Karge is a monologue performed by a female, most famously, I expect, by Tilda Swinton, but here by Tricia Kelly. I struggled with this, I think maybe because I wanted more insight into the period instead of the person. I wasn’t able to engage with the person – I read the word ‘creature’ somewhere online and it may well be the better word – or her dilemmas. If you happen to be a person who feels complete without having produced babies, it is difficult to empathise with somebody for whom this is evidently important and this was one of the prominent themes.

Lastly, La Soiree at the Spiegeltent camped at Southbank. As far as I know, the oldest Spiegeltent is in Australia.

The Melba Spiegeltent, located at the Circus Oz home in Collingwood, was built in Belgium in 1910. It travelled across Europe and saw numerous performances through its bevelled doors, including Edith Piaf and Kurt Weil in the ’20s and ’30s. In 2006 it came to Australia and was renamed after one of Australia’s fabulous opera soprano, Dame Nellie Melba. Circus Oz

Then there is the ‘The Famous Spiegeltent’

A European Mirror Tent – the ultimate cabaret and music salon’.
Spiegeltents are hand-hewn pavilions used as traveling dance halls, bars and entertainment salons since they were created in the early 20th century. There are only a hand-full of these unique and legendary ‘tents of mirrors’ left in the world today. Built of wood, mirrors, canvas, leaded glass and detailed in velvet and brocade, each has its own personality and style.
The most beautiful of the last remaining Belgian Spiegeltents, The Famous Spiegeltent, was built in 1920 by master craftsmen Oscar Mols Dom and Loius Goor. This Grande Dame has spent her lifetime at the bequest of festivals and fairgrounds throughout Europe and beyond, playing host to the world’s greatest cabaret artists, musicians and circus burlesque performers.
Since Marlene Dietrich sang ‘Falling In love Again’ on The Famous Spiegeltent stage in the 1930’s, its magic mirrors have reflected thousands of images of artists, audiences and exotic gatherings.

The Famous Spiegeltent is the very essence of a festival club, ‘kabaret salon’ and intimate concert hall. Like every old theatre, her ghosts travel with her, woven into ballooning velvet canopies, circular teak dance floor and stained, cut-glass windows. Her intimate booths, ornate bar and beveled mirror columns hold a million secrets while her glorious Art Nouveau chandelier, or trapeze rig, swings overhead.

The Famous Spiegeltent is a mainstay of the Edinburgh Festivals season and is a star in her own right, hosting parties, concerts, clubs and a myriad stunning performances. She has launched the careers of countless artists and travels to the four corners of the world from Edinburgh to Melbourne, Brighton to Montreal.

The Famous Spiegeltent embodies the living spirit of her operational team of the cheekiest hat checkers in the business. She is a living legend and will forever remain the stuff of dreams!

I have no idea what the history of the Southbank’s Spiegeltent is; it doesn’t strike me as being as pretty as the one that sits on the Southbank in Melbourne. We took the secondbest seating: “These seats are ideal for relaxing and enjoying an incredible view of the show.” In practice, several rows for our price category were unstaggered, we had tall people in front of us and that meant disappointing viewing. I’d pay top dollar or get there really early to avoid this. But then you would have to listen to the same five minutes of circus music played over and over really loudly until the show started and this drove us slightly crazy.

I guess in a variety show you get some duds, not many in this case. One of them is the compere, so hang in there, he goes away. The usual physical skills, saliva swapped through pingpong balls, trapeze, jugglers who might drop their knives; no big surprises. I thought the standout best was Australian Asher Treleaven. His second stint, which involved sex education via Mills and Boon was completely hilarious. He was a wonderful discovery for me, I’ve been away from Australia so long I seem to have lost track of comedy there.

A nice selection of theatre, don’t you think? And now back to Geneva. I need the rest.

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