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harry melling peddling

HARRY MELLING is an actor best known for his role of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films. Last year he performed his debut written play Peddling which was well received by audiences in New York. In April Melling will be bringing his play, which explores the world of thousands of Londoners who sleep on the streets, to the Arcola Theatre in London.

Is it true that Peddling was inspired by a young boy that you encountered when you were younger?

Yes, absolutely. I encountered him when I was about 8. My dad opened the door to him. Sometimes we bought something, other times not. On this occasion we didn’t. I remember the boy being very polite, and thanking us for listening to his pitch.

He left, my dad closed the door. And then something happened. He flipped. Something switched. He started howling abuse, and throwing anything he could get his hands on at the house. It felt like a cry for help.

harry melling daniel radcliffe

Image Harry Melling (left) and Daniel Radcliffe.  Merlin’s Myth and Magic via Flickr.

That must have been a situation that really left an impression on you?

It did. I remember being fascinated at what made him do that? What specifically that last straw was? How many doors he had been to before ours? Where he went to, after he eventually left? What was going to happen to him? What he wanted from his life?

Obviously not at all this came to me at the age of 8, but it definitely imprinted and felt like a story/ world that hadn’t been heard.

You have said that it was a play that you just had to write, do you think there was a social or political message you wanted to make?

Yes it was a story I wanted to tell. It took me a while to learn how best to tell it. It’s hopefully both political and social in terms of it’s content – hopefully not in a knowing way. I wanted it all to come from the boy. He couldn’t just launch into a political rant about where we’re all going wrong, not that this character wouldn’t be able to. But it felt like a personal story with social/ political implications, everything had to spiral from this boy’s world view, if the writer’s voice was too apparent, I think it would get in the way.

Harry Melling Dudley Dursley

Image Harry Melling as Dudley Dursley in Harry Potter.  Merlin’s Myth and Magic via Flickr.

You had the idea kicking around for the play for years can you give us an insight into that long process until it hit the stage?  

There’s been many versions. It started off with two boys. Then eventually it turned into a monologue. I don’t really know why? Certainly not as a sort of showcase, that’s an agenda which feels slightly unsettling. But I felt his story is a solo mission, these characters usually go around by themselves, that isolation felt useful.

It also allows for us to go inside his head more. It allows for a theatricality that wouldn’t be so easy to achieve were it a normal play (so to speak.) And I wanted it to feel magical.

Because that is what the boy is after, a sort of magic, to take him out of his not so great reality. When I finished a draft I was happy(ish) with I sent it to a friend who managed to get a reading of it at Hightide. Steven Atkinson (the artistic director) liked it, and it went from there.

How did the play have its premiere in New York and not London where it is set in?

London always felt like the final destination for this play. New York was a wonderful happening. 59E59 do this fantastic festival called, “Brits Off Broadway,” which we did last May. I must admit it is an odd journey, in terms of usually a play made in the U.K does London then New York. But it feels very right the play has this opportunity to come home. I’m very excited by it being here.

Are there any notable differences in playing to audiences in London and New York?

The million dollar question? Yes, there are. There’s a different quality of listening. I’ve only done two shows in New York, so have still a lot to learn. I think New Yorker’s want to be a part of it more. I feel Londoner’s want to receive it more. Both have their pluses and minus’. I guess it’s about knowing that and trying to steer the story in a way that will allow it to be heard and experienced in the best possible way, the most honest way.

Do you keep in touch with other cast members from Harry Potter?

I bump into other cast members every so often. I’ve done plays with two other Harry Potter alumni. That’s how it seems to work, you are constantly colliding with people you’ve already worked with, and rehashing those relationships.

Do you have plans to write another play and what would it be about?

I do have another play I’m currently working on. I don’t want to give too much away, because am still very much trying to work it out. What I will say is that it’s very different to “peddling”, at the moment it is long, very long, it has two intervals (which I want to keep). There’s something I like about that epic commitment to an evening of theatre (I’m not sure everyone feels the same way?) And the play is about the theatre.

Peddling by Harry Melling will be showing at The Arcola Theatre 4 – 28 March 2015. www.arcolatheatre.com

 

New Diorama Theatre – Borges and I

Have I read anything by Borges?  I consulted my bookshelf. Given the mauled state of the book I found, yes, I have. “One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century” the cover notes tell me – I probably should have read more. Like a student who hasn’t done his homework I approached the New Diorama Theatre, a pleasant oasis amidst the towering cut glass financial institutions it nestles in the shadows of. “Boor-jey?”, “Boar –ga?”. The programme includes a reading list, oh dear.

The New Diorama is a production company led theatre that tries to give fledgling outfits like Idle Motion, the creators of Borges and I, the infrastructure and resources to make great theatre.

And if Borges and I is anything to go by they are doing an excellent job. The production by Idle Motion was a beautifully thought out ensemble piece. The use of wonderfully choreographed physical theatre, projected imagery and a constantly transmogrifying set combined to produce vivid vignettes of Borges life. These were offset by a contemporary love story built around an everyday British book group that kept the play grounded and accessible.

New Diorama Theatre - Borges and I

Although these two narrative strands worked well together with the action passing seamlessly from one story to another I did sometimes wish we could spend more time in Borges bucolic world than that of the quotidian book group. That being said the company’s clear creative amity did produce many excellent comic moments with Grace Chapman’s performance as Hilary, the authoritarian leader of the reading club, proving to be particularly funny.

New Diorama Theatre - Borges and I

The show received an excellent reception at the Edinburgh fringe this year and not without good reason. This is a company that had put in the hours developing this work and the result is a performance that is a bittersweet homage to the power of the written word, and the quiet solace a book can bring.

I left the theatre and passed beneath the bright banking lights again, itching to pick up a book, and revel in the glorious power of a well turned phrase.

By Nick Rushton

New Diorama Theatre is an 80 seat theatre based just off Regent’s Park in the heart of central London. Unique in the capital for our development and support of emerging and established theatre companies, in our first two years we welcomed close to 30,000 audience members to theatre productions, readings and other events.

Idle Motion creates highly visual theatre that places human stories at the heart of its work. Integrating creative and playful stagecraft with innovative video projection and beautiful physicality, its productions are humorous, evocative and sensitive pieces of theatre.

From small beginnings, having met at school, the company has grown rapidly over the past six years, producing five shows that have toured both nationally and internationally. Its collaborative relationship is at the centre of all that it does, and it is proud to be an Associate Company at The New Diorama, The Lowry and the Oxford Playhouse. Idle Motion is a young company with big ideas, and a huge passion for creating exciting and beautiful new work.

Borges and his legacy

Let The Right One In - Apollo Theatre Review

Adaptations of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel can best be described as a mixed bag – the 2008 Swedish language film received rave reviews, whilst a 2010 American remake, renamed Let Me In, is better left forgotten. Because of this, the National Theatre Scotland version of Let The Right One In comes with a complex set of expectations. Will it be faithfully mysterious and haunting? Or will the same kind of commercial and populist pressures that sank the later film render it toothless? Fortunately, this play is as shocking and eerie as theatre is able to be, whilst also packing an emotional punch that not only excuses the gore, but also provides a profound exploration of alienation and love.

At its heart, this is a coming of age story – Oskar is a bullied teenager who finds opportunities for friendship and escape through a romance with Eli, who has moved next door with an older man. Difficulty arises not only from the increasingly violent bullying of Oskar, but also as it becomes apparent that a recent spate of violent murders has a cause close to home. On top of this familiar-sounding set up, however, is a playful mixing of genres and the interweaving of a folkloric vampire tale.

Writer Jack Thorne has moved the setting from Sweden to the Scottish Highlands – the story of a harassed innocent being freed only by extreme actions must have resonated with a Scottish audience facing September’s referendum – with the forest and snow that fill the stage highlighting the similarities between the two. Both are far away from central London on a spring evening, and this is something that the transformative set makes beautifully clear.

This is also helped by the two leads – Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli – reprising their roles from the initial Scottish run. Quinn adds a cheeky humour to the painfully awkward Oskar and, although Benson’s combination of fey innocence with a slightly gruff aggression initially grates, this choice eventually makes perfect sense. Eli’s appearance during a fantasy sequence in which Oskar enacts violent revenge on his bullies could lead to a reading of her character as merely the personification of this fantasy. Benson’s physicality and vocal delivery mean that she always seems something more than that, with a sense of insistent, latent power ever present in her performance.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - Apollo Theatre

The revenge fantasy sequence is an early example of the excellent choreography and music that is used throughout. Icelandic musician Ólafur Arnalds, whose music has appeared in The Hunger Games and Broadchurch, has provided a techno-tinged soundtrack that used most effectively to back group dance sequences. The most haunting choreography appears in early scenes, where Oskar’s desperation to be powerful enough to overcome his problems is expressed through other cast members shadowing his movements, expressing a feeling familiar to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by a problem.

Helpfully, if this overwhelming problem is the sheer number of plays in the West End, Let the Right One In manages to combine elements of an assortment of them: the awkwardly innocent youth of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (which precedes it at the Apollo), the out-of-your-seat horror of The Woman in Black, and even a train scene straight out of The 39 Steps – playing just around the corner. Far from a bricolage, though, Let The Right One In subverts each of these ideas, leaving audience reactions varying between rapt attention, head shakes and gasps that only increase as it reaches its breath-taking finale.

benBen Rackstraw
Theatre Reviewer

Let The Right One is currently showing at the Apollo Theatre.  www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk

Gallery Weekend Berlin 2014 
Matisse ExhibitionTate Modern Review

 

Arcola theatre dalston london

Unexpectedly recognising something is a powerful experience – spotting someone in the street that looks like a friend or accidentally catching your own reflection can be deeply affecting, and this seems to be magnified triggered by a work of art. In the exceptionally well-observed Visitors these moments are frequent but subtle enough not to be overly sentimental, making for an incredibly moving piece of theatre.

London Theatre Review - Visitors at the ArcolaImage  Mark Douet

This begins before the play even starts, with the stage set with the footstools, rug and crossword books that are standard issue for any elderly relative. Arthur and Edie, the elderly couple at the heart of the drama, also reminisce and bicker in a way that provides touchstones for anyone who has spent time with their grandparents, whilst also presenting their individual experience. This opening, with its snatched pieces of memory mixed with current worries accentuated by Edie’s accelerating dementia, echoes Beckett. Here, however, Godot does arrive, in the shape of young home help volunteer Kate. This sets in motion a gradual unravelling of family tensions and a debate about care for the elderly.

Writer Barney Norris has described increasing life expectancy as one of the greatest challenges faced by Middle England, and the questions he poses here – in his first full-length play – feel timely and important. It is a noble undertaking, tainted only by the difficulty posed by his tackling this subject as a young man. Norris writes Arthur and Edie beautifully, but the deep, unquestioned love and easy conversation sometimes feel saccharine. Norris clearly recognises this, and has Arthur address the problem in an early scene by explaining to Kate that the couple don’t often talk that much, and that they are just excited about her arrival. Nevertheless, because we don’t actually see these everyday silences, Visitors, despite its depiction of dementia, can occasionally seem like a rose-tinted view of the old age that we might wish for our relatives and ourselves.

London Theatre Review - Visitors at the Arcola

Image  Mark Douet

This issue is mitigated entirely, however, by breath-taking performances from Linda Bassett as Edie and Robin Soans as Arthur. Their love never feels anything less than genuine, and Edie’s illness is played with great sensitivity. Because of how adoring they are, it is slightly baffling that they have managed to produce such odious offspring as Stephen, played with an uncomfortably tense gawkiness by Simon Muller. It is difficult to feel sympathy for him, even as he delivers a great set piece of a joke that falls completely flat, highlighting the gulf between him an his father, or his increasingly apparent sadness. The only duff note is Muller’s tight-lipped Jimmy Carr-esque delivery of Stephen’s desperate one-liners, which, although clearly meant to grate, do so too successfully.

There is a slither of hope for Stephen, though: in the opening scene Arthur delivers an affectionately sarcastic “ho ho” in response to a comment from his wife; later, his son does the same. This verbal tic, passed down between generations, seems to be the one thing that father and son share, suggesting that if old age presents challenges of isolation and changes to the world that make it difficult to understand, at least we can pass down laughter and affection.

London Theatre Review - Visitors at the Arcola

 

Ben Rackstraw
London Theatre Reviewer

Catch Visitors till March 29 2014 at the Arcola Theatre

Vault Festival London

The Vault Festival continues in London with its arts event which utilises an underground space on Waterloo’s Leake Street. Headline events will include adaptations of Hunter S Thompson’s famous kick ass novel Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas and Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden. 

Vault Festival London

Building on the huge success of the 2012 Festival, Heritage Arts present VAULT 2014:  a wide-ranging programme of performance, live music, discussions and one-off late night events. Waterloo’s Leake Street tunnels will again be transformed into a must-visit destination for creative and curious Londoners; a place for debate, drinking, dancing and more.

The work of the capital’s most exciting emerging performance companies and artists will live within a collaborative and uniquely energised hub during the six week festival.  Alongside ticketed performances, free music from The Kansas Smitty’s House Band will entertain visitors to the VAULT Bar every Tuesday and Wednesday evening, and an additional series of late-night parties and events will take over the venue on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays: the VAULT Lates.

 

The Cement Garden

In the relentless summer heat, four children retreat into an isolated world left to them by their parents, and attempt to create their own version of a family. In Ian McEwan’s first novel, The Cement Garden explores coming of age, burgeoning sexuality and the distortions of a 14-year-old mind.

Vault Festival London

 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Dr Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is re-envisioned by an old friend of Thompson’s, Director-Adaptor Lou Stein. The current relevance of this cult classic is brought out by a focus on the surreal wit, humour and polemical heart of the original text.  This production will draw out Thompson’s newly pertinent warnings about the loss of national identity and resonate with the instability that threatens journalism today.

At VAULT’s bar, open to the public until 10.30pm every night, explorers can warm themselves with Adnams cask ale, or their award-winning gin, or follow Hunter S Thompson’s lead with Wild Turkey bourbon. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 9.00pm and 11.00pm, live swing music meets New Orleans jazz with performances from the Kansas Smitty’s, in addition to comedy compering from a programme of comedians – all for free. Snacks and food will be available every night courtesy of adventurer/chef Coyote Moon.

Vault Festival London

Vault Lates

At 10.30pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays throughout the festival, the atmospheric caverns of VAULT will become a nightclub, featuring one-off parties and extravaganzas. In all, there are eighteen late-night events to choose from. These include: three Fear & Loathing parties from Glastonbury’s Shangri-La team, extending the mad nightmare of the production into early hours; a Valentine’s Day Ball presented by Artful Badger; and  London’s best Mardi Gras party brought to life by Kansas Smitty’s and The Americana.

 

The Vault Festival London 2014 continues to 8 March 2014.  www.thevaultfestival.com

London Theatre Review – Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon

Our resident theatre critic Ben Rackstraw heads for the intimate theatre tucked away above the Drayton Arms pub to review a staging of Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon.

What is happening behind the windows that we walk past every day? What is hidden behind the blank faces of the people we walk by? Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon challenges us with some uncomfortable answers to these questions – so what better setting could there by for a new production than self-satisfied South Kensington?

 

The Golden Dragon of the title is a takeaway that serves as the springboard for a variety of stories, populated by the customers whose lives play out in and around the building that houses the restaurant. The most striking thing as the play opens, each of the five cast members chopping furiously in the kitchen, is that there are no Asian actors. This initially appears problematic – in a play ostensibly about the oppression of Asian immigrants, there are no Asian voices (Schimmelpfennig is German).

Roland_Schimmelpfennig play - london theatre review

Image Roland Schimmelpfennig. Wikipedia Creative Commons

However, as the play continues, two older actors play a young couple, men play women, women play men, and one male cast member plays a female grasshopper (more on that later). This playing with gender, age and race asks the audience to confront their expectations, and goes some way to excuse the all-white cast. This element of the play is attacked with enthusiasm, with Madlen Meyer’s controlled male aggression and Linus Karp’s uncomfortable female sexuality being played particularly well.

It is around half way through the play that the kaleidoscope of vignettes comes into focus, and it becomes clear that Asian economic migration is merely a device to explore general ideas about the effect of hegemony and power relationships. This is when this production really finds its feet. The first half drags a little, with some characterisation verging on caricature, but as the stories begin to interweave the actors discover a new energy, and this production really finds its feet.

 Roland_Schimmelpfennig play - london theatre review

Roland_Schimmelpfennig play - london theatre review

Images www.thedraytontheatre.co.uk

The failings of the first half are perhaps due to downplaying the play’s more shocking aspects. This work is a confrontational black comedy, but too often the comedy was played up and the drama played down – particularly in a poorly judged tin-foil tooth prop that renders a hilariously dark slapstick sequence just the wrong side of ridiculous. Towards the end the shocks came thick and fast, but they might have been better spaced.

One of the most effective threads is a disturbing twist on the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, which seems to ask how far we use stories to desensitise ourselves to the brutal reality of the world. The strange, long limbed physicality of Karp’s grasshopper communicates a terrible melancholy and shame that grows to fill the whole play. Even the restaurant scenes, played mostly for laughs, take on a sinister hue. Is the play of server and customer also a story? A lie that allows us to ignore cruelty and deprivation? This production poses that question subtly, showing how power imbalance can corrupt both the powerful and the powerless – although there is a hint of saccharine in the ending that feels slightly out of place.

brompton road london

Image The Wolf via Flickr

Walking back out into South Kensington, on to a street of takeaways and minicab firms, the power of The Golden Dragon is such that you can’t avoid thinking about what might be behind those curtained windows, but you worry that if you looked you might just see yourself reflected in the glass.

London Theatre Review -  Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon

Ben Rackstraw
London Theatre Reviewer

London Theatre Reviews  – Sunstroke at the Platform Theatre
London Theatre ReviewsA Doll’s House at the Duke of York Theatre
London Theatre Reviews
Sweet Bird of Youth Review

You can see what other productions are playing at the Drayton Arms Theatre on Old Brompton Road at www.thedraytontheatre.co.uk

London Theatre reviews

Carrie Cracknell’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s1879 classic play, A Doll’s House, transfers to the West End after a critically acclaimed run at the Young Vic, and loses none of its ability to captivate, shock, and provoke debate. (Cover image Richard Hubert Smith)

One of the most striking things about theatre is its ability to make itself immediate. When well produced, something about the proximity of the stage drags writing from decades or centuries ago into the present. Even so, it is surprising quite how much A Doll’s House has to say about gender politics in a Britain full of passionate protest about female faces on bank notes, celebrity domestic abuse and anonymous, aggressive misogyny on social media.

A DOLL'S HOUSE  by Ibsen

Image Johan Persson

The plot follows Nora Helmer over the Christmas period – struggling as a debt she has hidden from her straight-laced husband Torvald becomes a bargaining chip in her moneylender’s desperate plans to win back his job at the bank in which Torvald is a manager. The tension this creates is exquisitely managed as the drama plays out, eliciting the kind of gasps and cries of “no!” from the audience at The Duke of Yorks Theatre that are usually reserved for the most scandalous of stories shared between friends in the pub.

Our view of the Helmer family’s life is greatly enhanced by Ian MacNeil’s revolving stage that affords us an intimate view of the entire ground floor of their apartment. What begins as a sentimental John-Lewis-Christmas-advert-esque montage, with characters carrying presents and trailing scarves and gloves through the revolving rooms, soon becomes an almost voyeuristic examination of the web of lies spun by Nora, as private areas hidden upstage are rotated round to the audience.

London Theatre Duke of York Theatre

London Theatre Duke of York Theatre

 Images by Johan Persson & Richard Hubert Smith

This nod to the doll’s house of the title is particularly effective from the upper circle, where the whole set is visible at all times and you can almost feel the story playing out as if you were directing your childhood toys.

At the center of this production is Hattie Morahan’s incredible performance. Her Nora is seductive – at times both characters and audience seem hypnotised by her. However, the subtlety in this performance means she is also able to run the spectrum between repulsive and admirable, pathetic and inspirational.

Morahan’s fidgety, head-shaking, wide-eyed, explosive Nora produces an incredible complexity that is completely enthralling. Similarly compelling is Nick Fletcher’s desperate moneylender, clearly unsuited to the act of blackmail he is attempting, and Dominic Rowan’s cloying Torvald.

The play ignites a debate about the power of language to create illusions, whether loving or destructive, that feels utterly contemporary. Torvald’s pet names for his wife are revealed as a form of control, and much of Nora’s fantasy comes from her attempts to control the language used by those around her. What is left ambiguous is whether this is a result of individual corruption or societal pressure; we are shown little of the society in which the Helmers move.

A Doll’s House, then, is a self-contained microcosm that asks us to look inside ourselves and examine our relationships. This production certainly achieves that – I lost myself entirely in the denouement, as a 150-year-old play made itself so present that it was as if the theatre was empty and there was nothing else aside from the revelations in the interior room I was hurtling headfirst towards.

London Theatre Duke of York TheatreBen Rackstraw
London Theatre Reviewer 

www.adollshouselondon.com

sweet bird of youth review

(Cover image Manuel Harlan) Sweet Bird of Youth – Tennessee Williams, The Old Vic, London.

This summer brings the revival of the tragic American raconteur – a figure hiding his past through the combination of cynical manipulation and wilful self-delusion, enjoying an overblown lifestyle until the edifice crumbles around them. Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby explores the lavish ends to which a character will go to create the illusion, but this production of Tennessee Williams’ 1959 play far better highlights the tragedy at its end.

Instead of West Egg we have St. Cloud, the quintessential Southern town on the outskirts of New Orleans, and instead of Gatsby we have the aptly named Chance Wayne, who – after failing to become an actor, but succeeding in becoming a gigolo to the rich older women passing through Florida – has his last chance at redemption in his return to his hometown.

His aim is to win back the heart of childhood sweetheart Heavenly Finley with the help of one of those Florida women, once successful actress Alexandra Del Lago (the excellently cast Kim Catrell), who travels under the false name Princess Kosmonopolis. She represents his final opportunity to make something of himself through a studio contract he waves in the faces of the skeptical St. Cloud residents.

Alongside chancer Chance, Williams has adopted an almost Dickensian approach to names – played with enthusiastically by the production team. St. Cloud is a dream to Chance, and the set, with towering columns, bleached lighting and flowing drapes, reflects this. Similarly, Louise Dylan as Chance’s impossible Heavenly – first referred to as looking like a dead body as she lies on the beach – floats across the stage, either as merely a silhouette, or a wan, pixie-haired Ophelia. Del Lago, shares her name with Rossinni’s opera ‘La Donna Del Lago’. Williams In this work, the titular lady of the lake – daughter of King James’ sworn enemy, meets the King travelling under a false name, with their love resolving the conflict in the kingdom. Catrell is perfect here, capturing the melodrama of a constantly-performing faded superstar, and the perverse desperation of an addict.

sweet bird of youth reviewsweet bird of youth review

Images Manuel Harlan

It is clear from the wheezing coughs that introduce Del Lago that she is no saviour. This is the first sign of the lingering sense of death that is everywhere in this play – Heavenly’s introduction, a threat hanging over Chance, and Del Lago’s view of her career. In Gatsby was are shown that death can, temporarily at least, be beaten by fast living. Here it cannot. The difference is that Gatsby shows the temporary defeat of class restrictions through the illusion of wealth, whereas The Sweet Bird of Youth shows the impossibility of avoiding the transition into adulthood. If the bright lights and ostentation of Gatsby jarred, this production could be the perfect antidote.

sweet bird of youth review

 

Ben Rackstraw
London Theatre Reviewer

 

Sweet Bird of Youth is Showing at the Old Vic till 31 August 2013. Buy tickets from Official London Theatre 

EVENTS

Sigmar Polke Berlin exhibition

Currently showing at the me gallery Berlin until the 27 August 2017 is a major exhibition of Sigmar Polke. With over 150 works on show...
epsom derby