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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

 

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

Fear and Loathing Review – Vault Festival London

And so with my designated Samoan lawyer for the evening in tow we headed off in search of a Leake Street venue in Waterloo. In very unlike Hunter fashion we actually managed to make the event in good time.

I was questioning my lawyer’s advice on heading for the bar first when I saw the size of the queue. Was it even the right queue for Hunter’s Fear and Loathing? I ask a guy in the queue, he looks at me and in a foreign accent politely tells me that this is in fact ‘a queue’ while implying that most people have tickets and so not for a couple of chancers like me and my Samoan lawyer who obviously did not belong. Ah, good to know that reptilians are alive and well in London town.

We spot a door opening to what we think may be a side entrance to the play, result, we dive in, politely keeping the door open for a couple of female chancers. It takes all off 7 seconds to realise we are not at the Hunter play and in fact in some kind of Victorian candle lit affair. We bolt out again. After a little ‘press negotiation’ skills to enable jumping the queue we manage to get into the small venue which is packed out for the performance.

Fear and Loathing Review

Image Space Rockets via Flickr

And so to the play. I remember before the release of the Terry Gilliam movie many thought the novel was just not transferable to the big screen. I actually thought Terry Gilliam did a pretty good job but my Samoan lawyer hated the film but after watching the play actually said for him it was better than the movie. Using only dialogue from the book the play was a faithful adaptation which for those who have not read the book may have been totally agreeable. Having re-read the book on numerous occasions I yearned for something more, a different spin, creativity in adaptation.

Rob Crouch-Dr Gonzo Ed Hughes-Raoul Duke

Image left, Rob Crouch (Dr Gonzo) right, Ed Hughes (Raoul Duke) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Vault Festival London 2014.  Pic by Nobby Clarke

Ed Hughes, definitely looked the part as the main protagonist Raul Duke, but somehow lacked the crazed Hunterseque wild quality you would hope for. Rob Crouch, as Dr Gonzo, was always gonna have a tough task living up to the yardstick of Benicio del Toro’s performance in the film. Crouch did his best work in the bath, naked, when he was totally believable as the out-of-control lunatic feeling the effects of a twisted drug binge.

I thought the play may have missed a few tricks. For starters when they pick up what in the book is a wide eyed fresh faced impressionable hitch-hiker kid, in the play it’s a guy with a beard or a ton of stubble and looking as old as Duke and Dr Gonzo and so killing dead most of the humour of that scenario.

Hunter_S._Thompson,_fear and loathing in last vegas

Image Hunter S Thompson via Wikipedia Creative Commons

The narrator, John Chancer, as an older Thompson, who occasionally walked on to the set worked OK but the reading verbatim from the book did not do it for me. The projections on the walls of Nixon footage and some of the book’s imagery and motifs were cool and could have possibly added another dimension rather than being purely a backdrop. The ensemble also provided some worthwhile flourishes.

I also thought the scenes when Duke and Gonzo are sitting in the midst of a drug law enforcement cops convention felt a little flat given the sublimely amusing and absurdity of the situation.

Due to the verbatim nature of the dialogue from the book I found myself just wanting to listen to Hunter’s words and not really engage fully with the stage performances which relegated the work to that of an audio-book.

Hunter S Thompson rolling stones journalist

Image ianmunroe via Flickr

All said and done, the performance was fun and for those coming to Fear and Loathing fresh probably more enjoyable with less lofty preconceptions attached to it. My Samoan lawyer made the observation that the continual drug fuelled antics are amusing and more acceptable in the book as part of a crazy out-of-control road trip but to see that performed live you just thought get a shave and go for dinner and sort yourself out.

The Great Brain Robbery party, part of the Vault Lates, after the play was good fun with a good mix of ages, party tunes and extremely good prices for double rums particularly given typical London South Bank prices. Suffice to say that the evening ended with a loss of a number of hours from leaving the venue to getting home – till now still unaccountable. The partial memory of possibly vocally abusing a number of black cab drivers and a manic Samoan whisking eggs like a lunatic at 5am. Hunter would have approved.

You can catch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas till the 28 February 2014 at the Vaults Waterloo www.thevaultfestival.com

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

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