We started the day with bad news for David Cameron. We end the day with...worse news for David Cameron? Only time will tell.
Thanks for seeing it through until the final curtain of this Mayoral election. I'll be back with a rundown of the new administration next week.
And we're in the council chamber. Jon Sopel is waxing poetical about the voice of the people. Twitter is left to those diehards who are chewing their nails off. It seems like the Brent vote might not have been enough to swing the 15,876 margin.
Here it comes: I can't see who is smiling:
Johnson 971 931
Livingstone 889 918
And on second preference:
Johnson 82,820 (total 1,054,811)
Livingstone 102 355 (992,273)
So there we have it
It seems that we won't be able to race the returning officer to calculate the all-important results...
@davidtanser Brent Mayoral & London Member posted after Mayor & London-wide results declared.— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
So we'll hear the overall results before the Brent and Haringey breakdown. Remember that there are only 15,876 voted between the candidates with Boris less than 1% ahead on second preference.
The count for the Mayor is now confirmed complete. Just waiting on numbers...
And we get the confirmation that the B&H tally is done. Navin Shah officially returned to the assembly. Mayoral results to follow.
And we're done.— Tom Sweetman (@Tom_Sweetman) May 4, 2012
Our favourite man on the ground, Tom Sweetman, has encouraging news
Not long now... #SWL_AlexandraPalace— Tom Sweetman (@Tom_Sweetman) May 4, 2012
Update on the delay from the London Elects site
"4th May 2012
"We have results in from 13 of the 14 constituencies in the Mayor of London and London Assembly election.
"The final constituency is Brent & Harrow. The Greater London Returning Officer has been in touch with the CRO for Brent & Harrow to establish the reason for a delay.
"All batches of ballot papers were registered and scanned. Two batches went to storage without some ballot papers being manually entered as required. Manual entry is required when a scanner cannot read a ballot paper – for example if a ballot paper is damaged. It is not an issue with the scanners.
"The issue was identified during the verification stage. These two batches are being re-processed. To make this happen as quickly as possible we have separated out into several smaller batches. This is why the progress screens appear to show a changing number of verified ballot papers.
"We will declare as soon as possible but it is obviously important that every vote is counted."
London elects now says that the Brent and Haringey count is back down to 99% - It looks like Tom Sweetman's call about the 2,000 uncounted ballots was right on the money.
With the very latest figures on the mayorals from Enfield & Haringey, Boris leads Ken by only 15876 votes. That means that the Enfield and Haringey wiped out 2/3rds of the margin between them and Ken's old stringhold of Brent is still to declare (see below for why I'm not optimistic that this will happen soon!
Well this explains the recount/manual count/,achines not working/ballot boxes found rumours. These tweets from around 10pm explain a lot:
Tom Sweetman has been on the scene all day as part of the counting team. With 2000 vores found and the scanner guy "gone home" it looks like they're in for a long night.
BBC suggesting that there's a manual count going on for the Brent & Harrow count, but the London Elects site has it as counted and awaiting verification. Twitter is awash with rumours of broken machines, demands for a recount and investigations into spoilt ballots, but I can't find a single firm source for any of those.
My feeling is that the London Elects site is likely to be the most reliable source. I'm trying to find out why the Enfield and Hillingdon Mayoral numbers aren't yet up.
At last! The final constituency is just waiting for the returning officer to sign off the count. Still waiting for the first and second preference numbers from Enfield & Hilingdon and Brent & Harrow but we know that the second preference totals are closer than predicted. If these last two constituencies can rease that 43,000 vote difference then we may yet have Ken again... Stay tuned!
And it seems like the last ballots are scanned
No five minute warning yet, apparently but the final results can't be far behind.
21:11 I've just been passed a spreadheet containing official figures which apparently shows that with two (Labour leaning) constituencies to declare, it's down to fewer that 43,000 votes on second preference:
Boris (1st & 2nd Pref) 1080079
Ken (1st & 2nd Pref) 1037822
It's a nailbiter alright!
After 12/14 constituencies had declared, the first preference tallies were as follows:
Boris Johnson 44.88%
Ken Livingstone 39.25 %
Jenny Jones (Green) 4.51%
Brian Paddick(LD) 4.17%
Siobhan Benita (Ind) 3.82
Lawrence Webb (UKIP) 2.02%
Carlos Cortiglia (BNP) 1.35 %
For comparison, these were the first prefs in 2008:
Boris Johnson 43.20%
Ken Livingstone 37.00%
Brian Paddick (LD) 9.80%
Sian Berry (Green) 3.20%
Richard Barnbrook (BNP) 2.89
Alan Craig (Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party) 1.62%
Gerard Batten(UKIP) 0.93%
Lindsey German(Left List) 0.70%
Matt O'Connor (English Democrats) 0.44%
Winston McKenzie (Ind) 0.22%
Both main candidates, the Greens, the Independentcandidate and UKIP are all up on 2008. The Lib Dems and BNP are down.
Brent and Harrow - the least constituency to declare, is at about 98% verified (the last of the three vote counting stages). There will then be a brief period foradjudication to take place, then the returning officer will make it all official. Remember that the count for North London suffered a power failure this morning that set the count back somewhat.
Just waiting for the last of the constituencies to declare now. That's Brent and Harrow which will confortably return Navin Shah and looks like it will take another nibble out of Boris' lead on first preferences - but not by much! Commentators expecting a Johnson lead of around 100,000 First Preference votes.
Jennette Arnold, Labour Party Candidate, has been elected the London Assembly Constituency Member for North East.— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
James Ball of the Guardian thinks that Boris will edge the election:
Barnet results for mayor are in – Boris now leads by 150k. Remaining three will close for Ken (but probably not by enough) #vote2012— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) May 4, 2012
Whereas the BBC's Preeti Jha suggests that there might be something of a nailbiter in the second preferences:
Now have results from 11 of 14 constituencies. My calculations show Boris ahead on first preferences, Ken ahead on second preferences.— Preeti Jha (@PreetiJha) May 4, 2012
And deputy political ed of the Mail suggests that rumours of Boris' demise (from within Boris' own camp) are greatly exaggerated:
Team Boris 'really very anxious' but Peter Kelner of YouGov says his lead is 'bomb proof'— Tim Shipman (Mail) (@ShippersUnbound) May 4, 2012
The London-wide list looks like it will shape up something like this:
Those are approximate proportions at 90% of the vote. The final results should be released shortly. Remember that Labour and Conservative won't get as many seats as it might appear here because, under the D'Hondt formula used for the Assembly, the paries with constituency seats have their vote "discounted" by a given proportion of the seats already won.
It looks like the Greens have succeded in pushing the Lib Dems into 4th place, though that's still within the margin of error.
We're looking at a Mayoral announcement at around 8:30 pm. In the meantime, the Constituency seats for the assembly will go 9 Labour, 5 Conservative. That's a three seat swing to Labour.
Around the country: cities chosing not to have an elected mayor: Manchester, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry and Bradford, Leeds and Birmingham.
Bristol and Doncaster in favour of elected mayor
19:07 - the Barnet & Camden Result is now official - Coleman out and Dismore in.
We should have news soon that all four North London constituencies are going to labour. To understand why Labour have made such a strong showing, but Ken Livingstone hasn't, see the analyisis at 17:20.
Stand by for news of another new member of the class as Brian Coleman, Conservative member for Barnet & Camden seems about to lose his seat to Andrew Dismore (Lab)
The only change in the constituency membersip of the London Assembly so far comes from Ealing & Hillingdon, where Labour candidate Onkar Singh Sahota won the seat from Conservative incumbent Richard Barnes. The other 9 members returned so far are old boys and girls. The following four members have served in every assembly since 2000:
City & East: John Robert Biggs, Labour Party Candidate
Greenwich & Lewisham: Len Duvall, Labour Party Candidate
Lambeth & Southwark: Val Shawcross, Labour Party Candidate
South West: Tony Arbour, The Conservative Party Candidate
18:45 one more constituency declares - that's 10/14 now. (6 Con, 4 Lab)
Tony Arbour, The Conservative Party Candidate, has been elected the London Assembly Constituency Member for South West.— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
We're still at 9 declarations, but looking at the adjudication percentages we should get more results soon.
City & East declares. Another seat for Labour.
John Robert Biggs, Labour Party Candidate, has been elected the London Assembly Constituency Member for City & East— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
It may have hapened several hours ago, but any news story containing the line: "It is believed there was scuffle between [Lib Dem Brian] Spencer and Labour's Mark Johnson, who fell across a table and landed on his mother," has to be noteworthy!
We're getting closer to those north London results
@clarewolfenden 87% verified in Barnet & Camden. Result to follow.— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
One person who might be too busy polishing his CV to watch the count come in is Gutto Harri, Boris Johnson's media strategists. There are rumours that he will either join Number 10 or News International. Say what you like - the man obviously relishes a challenge!
Eight out of 14 constituencies have declared now (5 Con, 3Lab):
Bexley & Bromley: James Spencer Cleverly, The Conservative Party Candidate
Croydon & Sutton: Stephen John O'Connell, The Conservative Party Candidate
Ealing & Hillingdon: Onkar Singh Sahota, Labour Party Candidate
Greenwich & Lewisham: Len Duvall, Labour Party Candidate
Havering & Redbridge: Roger Evans, The Conservative Party Candidate
Lambeth & Southwark: Val Shawcross, Labour Party Candidate
Merton & Wandsworth: Richard Patrick Tracey, The Conservative Party Candidate
West Central: Kit Malthouse, The Conservative Party Candidate
As expected, those constituencies hit by the earlier power cut will be the latest ones to declare. they're also the ones most likely to return Labour Constituency AMs
Plans for a "Boris in every city" are currently not going well. outside the capital. Doncaster said they want to keep their mayor, but Birmingham and Sheffield have rejected the proposal:
According to the Sheffield Star: "Of 128,638 votes cast in Sheffield, 82,890 people - some 65 per cent - voted for keeping the current leader and cabinet system, whereas 44,571 - 35 per cent - were for having an elected mayor.
"But the people of Doncaster have decided to keep their system of an elected mayor after a referendum was held. More than 42,000 voters, or 61.7% voted in favour, with only 25,879, or 37.8%, preferring a leader and a cabinet."
Of a 30% turnout in Birmingham, 58% voted against and 42% in favour.
17:45 How the count works
The Mayor elected by under a system called "supplementary vote." If Boris receives more than half of all the first choice votes (which it doesn't look like he will) he will be elected immediately. Otherwise, Boris and Ken will go through to the second round: all the other candidates will be eliminated from the race, and the second choice votes on their ballot papers for either of the top two candidates will be added to their totals. The candidate with the highest combined total of first and second choice votes will be elected as Mayor of London (on aggregate).
The assembly has two sets of members - 14 that are elected by constituency, and 11 elected through the "top up" system. The top up system is run under a proportional system called the Modified D'Hondt formula (which, mercifully, the electronic counting machines execute automatically.) The system favours parties that haven't already won constituency seats, and allows parties who have votes across london, but not enough to win in any individual constituency, to get a seat. In effect, votes for all the parties are "pooled" across London. the larger parties are "handicapped" by the number of seats they've already won (to avoid double counting their infulence) and a wider range of voices is represented in the assembly than if elected under First Past The Post - which is the ststem used for the constituency members.
We can now add Valerie Shawcross (Lambeth and Southwark, Lab) to the list:
Val Shawcross, Labour Party Candidate, has been elected the London Assembly Constituency Member for Lambeth & Southwark.— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
The constituency members for the London Assembly who have been elected so far are:
Bexley & Bromley: James Spencer Cleverly, The Conservative Party Candidate
Croydon & Sutton: Stephen John O'Connell, The Conservative Party Candidate
Greenwich & Lewisham: Len Duvall, Labour Party Candidate
Havering & Redbridge: Roger Evans, The Conservative Party Candidate
Merton & Wandsworth: Richard Patrick Tracey, The Conservative Party Candidate
(Con 4, Lab 1)
With London almost certain to return Boris Johnson for another term as mayor, against a backdrop of catastrophic losses for the Tories elsewhere, what is going on? How has Boris the Fair bucked the trend?
Part of the reason must be the Benita Bounce (see 14:05 update) but an analysis of YouGov's last polling data from Wednesday night tells an interesting story:
YouGov have identified an importtant "Boris Labour" constituency. "We looked at people who told us they were certain to vote today, and would vote Labour if today’s contest were a general election. One in ten told us they will vote for Boris. If they voted for Ken, he'd win by 52-48%. Another one-in-ten Labour supporters will withhold their mayoral vote from both men (though most will vote Labour in the Assembly election). If they all backed Ken, he'd win by 54-46%."
So despite the appetite for Labour, or at least the desire to give the coallition a good kicking, 20% of Labour supporers felt that they couldn't "hold their nose and vote for Ken."
YouGov also found the following:
Among people who intended to vote for Boris, 54% of Boris gave a "personality" reason ("I like Boris" or "I dislike Ken"), while only 27% gave a "party" reason.
People who intended to vote for Ken showed the inverse pattern: 29% gave a personality reason, while 45% gave a party reason.
Among Labour supporters who prefer Boris, it's predominantly the "lovable rogue" thing:
‘I dislike Ken’: 65%
‘I like Boris’ 23%
‘My family would be better off with Boris as Mayor’ 2%
Tory supporters who who would vote UKIP in a general election prefer Boris to Ken by ten-to-one. Watch out Cameron - whether he's promised us four years or not, BoJo has kept the supporters that you've alienated.
Interestingly, voter apathy may have swung it for the incumbent: among all respondents, the prefernce was virtually a dead heat, with Boris a fraction over 50% and Ken a fraction under 50%. But whereas 68% of Boris's supporters said they were certain to vote, the figure for Ken's supporters was only 62%.
With five out of 14 districs having completed their counts and two more in final adjudication, the electoral picture is much the same as it was at 2pm - Boris is still a shade in the lead over Ken Livingsone, and it's neck-and-neck for third. At 16:52, the time of the latest London Elects poll update, the London list for the assembly shows labour in the lead by a handful of seats. It looks like the count will be over in all the districts unaffected by the power cut at Ally Pally earlier, very soon!
It's too early to extrapolate from what we're seeing from the first two districts - after all, that would suggest an assembly with a Tory majority and it really looks like that won't happen. What we can say, though, is that BNP support has waned in what was one of their key areas, and there is a strong chance that they will lose their only assembly seat this time around.
James Cleverley and Richard Tracey were both incumbents from the last election and, Leonie Cooper for Labour made a strong showing, against the Merton & Wandsworth Conservative Party machine. The final numbers aren't yet in, but there's a patch of blue sky over south london for the Conservatives. How ling will it be before someone rains on that parade? Join me again around 4:45pm to find out.
14:18 The Race for adjudication.
Bexley & Bromley and Merton & Wandsworth are racing to be the first districts to declare their final results. Here's what London Elects had them on a few minutes ago:
14:05 - The Benita Bounce - better for Boris?
Siobhan Benita is making an excellent showing, currently in joint third, on votes validated so far, with Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick. Could this be part of the reason why Boris has edged ahead?
Acording to London politicical expert Tony Travers, based at the LSE, Ms Benita may have won a “significant” number of votes that would otherwise have gone to Labour candidate Ken Livingstone. “There is a fair chance she has taken away what would have been Ken Livingstone votes. Maybe only two or three per cent but that is still quite significant,” Mr Travers told the Evening Standard. “Over the last few days she seems to have been picking up celebrity support and looks to have picked up some of the dissident anti-Ken vote. If she ends up coming third, fourth or even fifth it will be a very good result for her.
“At the moment I think Brian Paddick will come third but it is conceivable. From a standing start her campaign has done rather better than her policies would suggest. If she gets anything like five per cent of the vote it will be another indication of a general trend that people are moving away from party politics"
London Elects are keeping their powder dry about when we can expect the final results. When I asked about the effect of the power cut earlier, this was their reply:
@sciwriby Haven't predicted a time. Need to ensure all votes from across London are counted.— London Elects (@londonelects) May 4, 2012
The results are unlikely to be announced before 6pm though.
The most credible noises that I'm hearing suggest that second preferences will need to be counted for the Mayor, but given that the electronic counting system (see the 12:44 entry in this timeline) automatically applies the appropriate electoral rules as the votes are processed, there shouldn't be a big delay between first and second round results as I understand it. Chances are that we'll know who the mayor and his assembly will be by 8pm.
A Boris in every city?
Well, it looks like four more years of a Boris in this city. As he told the Evening Standard:
“If I am fortunate enough to win I will need four years to deliver what I have promised. And having put trust at the heart of this election, I would serve out that term in full.
“I made a solemn vow to Londoners to lead them out of recession, bring down crime and deliver the growth, investment and jobs that this city so desperately needs. Keeping that promise cannot be combined with any other political capacity.”
But what of Cameron’s promise to put a Boris in every city? Apparently that hasn’t gone down too well: of those cities who have declared the results of their referendums so far, every single one has rejected the idea of an elected mayor.
Bradford, Manchester, Coventry and Nottingham rejected the idea and it’s likely that the other 6 cities holding referendums will follow suit when results are announced around 5pm. Manchester rejected the idea of an elected mayor by a margin of 53% to 47%, and Nottingham by 58 to 42%. In Coventry, just 36% backed the proposal and 64% opposed it.
While we wait for more London news, here's little bit of schadenfreude from north of the border from the FT’s Hannah Kuchler:
Tom Gordon, the Scottish political editor of the Sunday Herald, reports some surprising news:
Senior SNP figure says Lab set to stay biggest party in Gla w 38/39 to SNP's 32 based on results so far #gccvote— Tom Gordon (@ScottishPol) May 4, 2012
It looks like the predicted SNP landslide is petering out.
The latest proportions in the London-wide AM race are as follows:
Labour - 39%
Conservative - 33%
Green - 8%
Lib Dem - 7%
UKIP - 5%
BNP - 2%
Christian People's Party - 2%
English Democrats - 1%
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - 1%
National Front - 0%
The House Party - 0%
Ijaz Hayat (Indy) - 0%
Rathy Alagaratnam (Indy) - 0%
Remember, though, that the North London is disproportinately underrepresented because of that earlier power cut, Whether that will benefit Labour or the Tories is yet to become clear, but with all four districts ffected polling strongly for Labor so far, the picture is unlikely to improve for the Conservatives.
And with that, I'm going to break for lunch. See you again at 1:30!
And here's a picture from one of the counters
According to Tom, there was a power cut at Ally Pally, delayingteh Brent and Harrow count significantly. Barnet and Camden, Brent and Harrow, North East and Enfield & Harringey all have fewer than 20% of their votes verified. Other districts are at anything between 40 and 80% verified. It looks like it'll be a long wait in North London!
Here's what's currently happening at the returning offices at Alexander Palace, Excel and Olympia:
With Bexley & Bromley and Merton and & Wandsworth racing to finish their tally first (both having counted around three quarters of the vote by lunchtime, the picture for the london elections is beginning to appear. the Labour party is ahead of the Conservatives by a small margin for the London-wide AM seats. Bexley and Bromley show a clear win for their conservative candidate for the assembly, and in Merton and Wandsworth it’s too close to call with Richard Patrick Tracey (Con) and Leonie Cooper (Lab) almost neck and neck with just 26% of the vote still to be counted.
In the big race it’s Boris Johnson in the lead, but with the votes in his suburban “doughnut”currently being counted faster than the inner city seats, that picture could still change.
The Lib Dems have have suffered the most from these results, as local poitics has long been their stronghold. Nick Clegg said, “I am really sad that so many colleagues and friends, Liberal Democrat councillors who have worked so hard, so tirelessly, for so many years for communities and families in their local areas, have lost their seats and I want to pay tribute to all the great work they have done." as the Liberal Democrats' suffered their worst local elections for over two decades. According to the Guardian, “The Lib Dem party was taking 16% and was braced to see its share of the councillor base fall below 3,000 for the first time since the party was formed in 1988.” With his usual eloquence, Lord Prescott declared the result to be an "Armacleggon".
According to Reuters, Labour is on course to capture 39 percent of the national vote, against 31 percent for the Conservatives and 16 percent for the Lib Dems. Labour also seized control of Birmingham - the biggest council in England, and Cardiff, previously the Lib Dems' flagship council.
But Miliband’s moment in the sun may not last long: results are due later in the day from Scotland, and the the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) was expected to make gains. The SNP are projected to take Glasgow council in what would be a clear indicator of Labour's weakening grip north of the border.
As the nationwide picture begins to emerge from yesterday's elections, one thing is certain - the Labour Party have scored heavily off dissatisfaction with the coalition, and the gains for UKIP suggest that there aremany people who blame Europe, rather than the coalition, for the economic problems that we're facing.
With 109 out of 181 councils declared so far, Labour have taken 1196 seats (a gain of 505), the tories are on 632 (a loss of over 200) and the Liberal Democrats on 238 (a loss of 140 seats) Labour control 53 councils, scoring mainly off boroughs that previously had Conservative or No Overall Control council chambers.
It’s thought that UKIP has had its best election to date, taking around 20% of the vote. Rightwing members of Cameron’s party have been demanding a tougher stance on crime, immigration and Europe.
Gerald Howarth, minister for defence, has warned Cameron that he should consider Tory unease about gay marriage and law reform in the traditional wing of the party.
Conservatives took damaging losses in Plymouth where constituency MP Gary Streeter, a moderate Conservative, warned Cameron that "We need to work out a strategy for traditional Conservative voters shuffling off and voting Ukip because they don't think our leadership is Conservative enough. We need to show the decisiveness and surefootedness we have shown in the past … the Ukip vote is about a hard core of traditional Tory voters saying: 'We don't like the liberal decisions this government is starting to take... If the Liberal Democrat tail has been wagging the dog a little bit too much, it does not need to do that any longer. We can be tougher with them. We have got to be much more Conservative on crime, law and order – that is what our supporters are waiting, indeed gagging to see."
There’s a new monthly science café in town – or perhaps it might more accurately be called a science pub. Organised by three enterprising researchers at Cancer Research UK, Cosy Science aims to bring the excitement, the stories and the discoveries of science to as wide an audience of London drinkers as possible.
They’ve set up camp in the Exmouth Arms and they started their programme with a heavyweight billing – Professor Tim Hunt, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001. His talk was engaging and varied, ranging from the happy accidents that led to him discovering the mechanism that controls cell division, to his involvement in the radical political scene in the United States during the Vietnam War.
The audience for this inaugural show was mainly made up of scientists, but entertainments included live music from a very talented harpist, Ozlem Simsek, and art from neuroscientist and painter, Eva Brombacher. The evening was varied enough for non-scientists to feel more than welcome.
The discussion at the end of the evening covered such topics as whether science has become too politicised, and whether artists and scientists could ever truly communicate with each other. The audience was lively and vocal, and – perhaps emboldened by a bit of Dutch courage – had no qualms about putting the affable Professor Hunter on the spot. He responded with charm and wit to the questions put to him and the discussion showed no sign of letting up before he sadly had to run for a train.
It’s not often that you get to have one of those slightly drunk, table thumping arguments with a Nobel Prize winner, and Cosy Science have pulled off a coup by getting someone both so accomplished and so approachable to open their programme. The success of TV series like the Wonders of the Universe and Horizon shows that there is a huge appetite for science entertainment and information, and Cosy Science is addressing that appetite with its friendly takes on weighty subjects.
If you want to know more about bodies and brains, atoms and universes (and all things in between) keep an eye on Cosy Science’s programme of monthly talks.
John Webster has a reputation as the Quentin Tarantino of Jacobean tragedy. It’s true that his plays have their fair share of violent ends and The Duchess of Malfi certainly has the scope to become a grand guignol in the hands of any director who is content to play it for shock value. But director Jamie Lloyd has taken the opposite path, choosing to focus on Webster’s language and exposing the soul and the poetry, and even the hope, at the core of the text.
The narrative of the play is centred on the widowed Duchess’ remarriage to her steward in defiance of her brothers’ wishes. This unleashes a chain of cruel reprisals against her, ordered by the brothers and executed by their pawn, Bosola (played with convincing moral ambiguity by Mark Bonnar.) During the rehearsal period the cast studied accounts of so-called honour killings to develop an understanding of the terrors unleashed in the name of the subjugation of women to male desires. Assistant director Simon Evans says “The reports of sisters, daughters, wives and babies, killed around the world by family members in the name of honour [reminds us] that nothing in Webster’s play is more grotesque or violent than the world it mirrored then and still mirrors now.”
It is Jamie Lloyd’s insistence on uncovering the human truths at the heart of the most inhumane of acts that cements this production as a stunningly moving piece of theatre. He has also chosen to juxtapose light and shade – literally and metaphorically – to great effect. The lighting plot makes brave use of deep shadow, unusual lighting angles and even complete darkness to emphasise the mood and to make excellent use of Soutra Gilmour’s set. As for the action, the Duchess’ playful joy in marriage makes her quiet dignity in death all the more poignant.
Eve Best as the Duchess pulls off a tour de force of characterisation. She convincingly runs the gamut from the flirtatious new bride to the widow deranged with rage to the dignified martyr with apparently effortless naturalism. The rest of the cast are strong – the two brothers are played by Harry Lloyd and Finbar Lynch with a malevolence that resists the descent into pantomime villainy.
Mark Bonnar’s Bosola rises well to the challenge of playing the biggest vacillator since Hamlet, although he could have given us a much earlier glimpse of motives that are only revealed in the text at the end of act two when he tells the Duchess’ brother that he “rather strove to satisfy yourself than all the world: and though I loath'd the evil, yet I lov'd you that did counsel it…” Were this love made more apparent, Bosola’s dark deeds would be more understandable, though no more excusable.
The house opens without a curtain and we are shown Soutra Gilmour’s vertiginous, multi-level set that later becomes, through the deft use of lighting and blocking, a palace, a prison and a cloister. The auditorium is suffused with the smell of incense and, during the processional entrances (complete with candelabras and renaissance-inspired movement) you would be forgiven for expecting an operatic spectacle. But Jamie Lloyd has married spectacular design with a revelatory respect for Webster’s words. The result is a production that pierces the heart even more than it dazzles the senses.
The Duchess of Malfi at The Old Vic until the 9th of June.
In the previous act, Boris the Fair became Boris the Foul-Mouthed, and Ken the Red was accused of double-dealing on his taxes. In this act a fair maiden, Siobhan (La Benita, Ind) arrives to upset the race.
As the curtain rises the audience groans as Boris the Fair (Con) and Ken the Red (Lab) continue to sing the same arias that they have been singing for the last
eight years three acts (Sei Full of Merda) when all of a sudden they are interrupted by the fresh voice of Sisi, La Benita.
She denounces the two heavyweight candidates (Stop Il Vostro Macho Stronzate). She tells her confessor, the very reverend HuffPo that the two men have played a “a very clever trick;” on the townspeople by pretending to be the mavericks while “epitomising” their respective parties. “I do actually think now it’s virtually impossible to know what Labour or Conservatives stand for, I think the messages are so blurred. Having sat in Whitehall I’ve seen how the Commons machine works," she sings. “I just don’t believe or trust many of them any more, and that’s not true of them deliberately setting out to say things that aren’t true, I think they’re so frightened now of turning people off, that they end up coming out with bland things that you don’t really know or believe what they’re saying.”
Boris and Ken return to their previous, lengthy tirade about taxes (Six of One, Meta di una Dozzina dell'Altro), but La Benita sings up again in a clear, sweet voice: Oh! Male Tories! She explains that she fled Whitehall, into the snow because she opposed the NHS reform bill: "[The Bill has] not been endorsed democratically... I saw a health secretary behind the scenes arrive with a fully worked up set of reforms that no one in the public knew about." Boris and Ken laugh and airily dismiss La Benita, saying that she will change nothing (Tu No Sono Invited to the Hustings).
Deprived of the precious oxygen (of publicity) that she requires, La Benita begins to falter (Che Gelida mi Campaign) but a trio of eager suitors, il Guardian, Signor Times and Arch Duke Standardo della Serra rush to her side to amplify her song. As the curtain falls, Bill Hill, the court turf accountant drops the odds on La Benita winning the election from 500/1 to 14/1.
Siobhan Benita now 14/1 3rd fav to win London Mayor Election having been 200/1 - 11/4 to beat all but Boris/Ken on 1st Preferences .#Benita— William Hill (@sharpeangle) April 18, 2012
Can La Bonita inject some variety into this painfully repetitive production, or is she destined to play nothing more than a cameo - find out in the final act of the Mayoral Opera... coming to a polling station near you on May 3rd!
Although Britain and America were gripped by paranoia at the height of the Cold War, very few people in suburban London believed that their neighbours were Russian spies. But in 1961, the people of Ruislip found themselves at the centre of an international incident when they discovered that their neighbours were not a pleasantly inoffensive Canadian couple but were, in fact, a pair of KGB spies.
In 1983, with the shadow of these events still looming large, playwright Hugh Whitemore dramatized them as a play, Pack of Lies, which starred a young Judy Dench. Now director Terry Wynne has revived the play for the London stage at Waterloo's Network Theatre. He has kept the original cold war setting and places all of the action in an open "dolls' house" set which highlights the surveillance and scrutiny that dominates the play.
Lighting this play poses a serious challenge: the set is entirely open but the script calls for moments of total isolation. I’m working with the director and designer to create tight pools of light and shade that will hopefully intensify the feelings of loneliness and deceit. There isn’t much warmth or happiness in the play either, and the lighting design has to reflect the dreary pallor of a Ruislip winter in the years before the 1960s started to swing.
The cast are in the final stages of rehearsal, and at last night’s run-through they were incorporating some final cuts to tighten up the script and to maintain the tension of this espionage thriller. When we’re used to the fast cuts of contemporary television series like 24, a piece like this can seem slow by comparison. But the measured pace gives the cast the time to draw out all the nuances of the relationships between the betrayers and the betrayed. Pace is sacrificed but depth is won.
Although the setting remains true to the original period, it’s not hard to see the resonances with contemporary London. Fears about external and internal threats, a breakdown of the accepted order and perceived loss of identity all lead to heightened anxiety, whether over terrorism or the fear of another summer of riots. State surveillance is increasingly welcomed in exchange for the illusion of security. This play deftly exposes the pain of secrecy on both sides: Barbra, the suburban English housewife who simultaneously learns that her best friend has deceived her, and becomes the deceiver herself.
The popularity of the new film adaptation of the John le Carré classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the TV series Homeland, indicates that people are yearning to understand these issues at a deeper level. What does drive someone into a secret life of underground conflict? And what is the human toll on these secret soldiers and the people around them? Pack of Lies provokes some uncomfortable reflections about the human cost of covert warfare in this or any age.
Pack of Lies runs at the Network Theatre, Waterloo, from the 25th to the 28th April. Tickets £12.
Southwark Playhouse follows up last year’s Tender Napalm with another Philip Ridley play: Shivered. Widely acclaimed, this first-run production takes on themes of loss, voyeurism and exploitation with Ridley’s trademark mix of unflinching brutality and touches of magical realism.
The UFOs and monsters that cast their shadow over the characters in this play never appear, but they manifest themselves in a yearning for something that transcends the earthly decay of a failing new-town. Mikey believes in aliens, Ryan in monsters, Lyn in the power of sex as an escape mechanism, Evie in voices from the other side. Only cynical Gordy, who uses makeup to create a freak show eyeless man, looks at the world without flinching.
The play’s climactic moment is triggered when young Jack wants to know whether the video of an execution is real or fake - he claims his head will explode if he doesn’t know the truth – but with what almost seems like gleeful sadism, Ridley leaves the audience with so many unanswered questions: about Mikey and Alec’s sexuality, Ryan’s birth defect, Lyn’s sexual appetites.
The only character who lies to us is Gordy. Like the man standing steady at the centre of the merry-go-round he nimbly negotiates his way through the chaos, changing the trajectory of the lives he touches. For us, and for the rest of the characters, the cut-up time and the deliberate ambiguities create the dizzying effect of being in one of the teacups on Gordy’s funfair ride.
Andrew Hawley’s charismatic Gordy has all the showman flair of a carny-cum-revivalist preacher but there is some real tenderness in his moments with Lyn and Jack that humanises him. Spiritualist Evie is either deluded or cynical and is as self-centred as a gyroscope, but Amanda Daniels’ deep and well-rounded portrayal also uncovers Evie’s strength and fearless determination to take life with both hands no matter what it throws at her.
Josh Williams' performance as Jack is exceptionally good; he manages a deft mix of authentic youthful exuberance and the wariness of a young teen in a tough town. The production’s minimal set and stylised sound and lighting cues effectively convey the abrupt changes in time, mood and location that the non-linear script demands. Sometimes Ridley’s language begins to break out of authentic register and into something approaching beat-poetry - my date described these as his “Jim Cartwright of Essex” moments - but his nerve fails and these flashes don’t reach a conclusion so much as repeat to fade.
Last night’s performance also came with a preview of a work in progress that Ridley is currently developing. Robbie Jarvis, Olivia Poulet and Joseph Drake gave a book-in-hand reading of and as-yet untitled work. The vignettes return to the themes of apocalypse, post-industrial decay and the yearning for a less morally ambiguous time. Joseph Drake in particular brought the character of a neurotic schoolboy to funny but touching life off the page and I look forward to finding out what becomes of him.
After the antics in Act II, Boris the Fair (Con), Ken the Red (Lab), Jenny the Fragrant (Green) and Brian the Forgotten (Lib) come together in the salon of Count Niccolo Ferrari to address a throng of Londoners.
As tempers fray the Mayoral Opera starts to build to a deafening crescendo. Ken the Red disapproves of Boris’ plan for a cable car across the river (Il Vostro Big Bauble è Ridicolo) and Brian the Forgotten mocks Boris’ bus designs "modelled on your own home with three entrances and two staircases" (Il Nuovo Routemaster Costa How Much?)
Jenny the Fragrant is next to attack poor Boris the Fair. Non Posso Respirare she sings, denouncing his use of glue traps to try to catch London’s air pollution. She tells her supporters to cast their second vote for Ken the Red (Qualcuno Comprendere il Supplementary Vote?) Boris tries to rally with a counterattack, reminding Ken that he hasn’t yet explained his tax status (Che Ipocrita Enorme!) but Ken counters with accusations that Boris the Fair uses exactly the same arrangements for his own payments (Et Tu Boris!)
Count Ferrari calms the candidates and asks them to join him on the rooftop for a portrait. In the climactic staircase scene, Boris the Fair finally appears to lose his mind. In a resounding aria, unusually in Anglo-Saxon rather than Italian (or even Latin), Boris the Foul calls Ken a “fucking liar.”
Johnson and Livingstone are involved in a furious row in the lift after the LBC broadcast. @londontonight— Simon Harris (@simonharrisitv) April 3, 2012
Sources say Johnson and Livingstone"nose to nose". Johnson 's face "red with rage" @londontonight— Simon Harris (@simonharrisitv) April 3, 2012
Mayor maxima culpa? Or will Boris laugh this one off? Queue for the toilets now as it’s going to be a gruelling Act IV in The Mayoral Opera
With this glorious weather set to continue throughout the week and into the weekend, what could be better than an afternoon in one of London’s parks? And now the clocks have gone forward, why not celebrate with a breath of fresh air after work?
Getting Physical in Hyde Park
Hyde Park is synonymous with the Proms and flocks of tourists, but it’s also one of London’s best outdoor sports venues. Throughout its 350 acres you can find everything from swimming to tennis to horse riding.
Unless you’re a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club you can’t take a dip here until May but the Serpentine Lido is central London’s quirkiest place to do a few laps. It’s also one of the cheapest, at just £4 for an adult swim. The water isn’t heated or treated which means that you may have to doggy paddle past the odd duck, but that’s part of its charm.
Weekends in May, 7 days a week, June-September, 10am-6pm
Hyde Park Tennis Centre at the junction of West Carriage Drive and South Carriage Drive has six hard courts, two mini tennis courts, a sports shop, changing rooms and a café. They run drop in sessions from £12 for beginners through to advanced players and can arranged coaching and court bookings. The centre is open year-round in daylight hours.
8am-6pm in March
On the southern section of the Park between Rotten Row and South Carriage Drive, the Sports Field is available for informal games of football, touch rugby, cricket, softball, rounders and frisbee. There are extensive cycle and rollerblading routes throughout the park, and joggers and runners use the paths and the grassways as a pleasant off-road alternative, especially in the run-up to the Marathon.
Of course Hyde Park is most famous for riding - the Rotten Row was the place to be seen astride a mount throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. These days it’s less of a social hangout, but there are two stables that run lessons and rides: Hyde Park Stables and Ross Nye Stables and you might find yourself riding alongside members of the Household Cavalry!
Getting romantic in Regent’s Park
Queen Mary’s Gardens in the Inner Circle are just starting to bloom. The shrubbery is laid out to create secluded walks and private corners filled with the sights and smells of over 30,000 roses. Make your way to the small ornamental lake and island at the centre to fully appreciate this garden fit for a princess. The formal Avenue gardens and the informal English gardens at the south end of the park are a riot of spring bulbs and blossom at the moment. Cosy arbours and pavilions make for inviting spots for a picnic and some alfresco romance.
And if food be the food of love, Regent’s Park has a wide variety of things to offer. The Honest Sausage on the Broad Walk off Chester Road offers a hearty brunch with organic and free-range pork sausages and bacon. If your tastes run to something more stylish, why not have lunch in the beautifully stylish Garden Café? Recently refurbished, this light and airy restaurant serves seasonal and regional specialities like grilled mackerel and samphire, with new potatoes and lemon mayonnaise.
Back to nature in Epping Forest.
The corporation of London still owns beautiful Epping Forest just on the margins of Chingford. It’s only 25 minutes by train from Liverpool Street station but it feels like another world. The forest has been maintained since at least Saxon times and was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite hunting spot. The City of London helped the commoners protect their grazing rights on the land as the Enclosures Act was taking more and more common land away from the people. To this day, parishioners have the right to graze cattle on the land, and to collect "one faggot of dead or driftwood" per day under the Epping Forest act. The City maintains the forest trails and wood land and is building accessible routes through the 12 mile-long site. This is a working forest rather than a park so don’t expect cafés and restaurants - be sure to pack a picnic!
In Act I the people of London town were impressed by the antics of lovable buffoon, Boris the Fair (Con). Act II continues with the first official day of the campaign in Dartford. No Crayford. No wait…
Boris strolls onto the stage to sing his comic aria “I am a Pirate King” which becomes a duet with his campaign manager (“A Wandering Mayoral Candidate, I”) when they realise that the motley chorus of journalists has been told to meet with Boris in the wrong part of the city. While the journalists troop onto the stage, likeable rogue Boris sings “There was a Time (when I went to East Dulwich by Mistake)."
In another part of the City, Brian the Forgotten (Lib) attempts to explain his party’s policies (“Alas! I waver to and fro”) saying that he definitely wants to tax the rich but not by actually taxing the rich.
Ken the Red (Lab) is quietly strolling with his dog (Lab) in Kilburn throughout this act and the townspeople wonder why he isn’t joining in the singing ("With aspect stern and gloomy stride") but he keeps his counsel.
Boris the Fair kidnaps the Court Herald, Twitter (140Char), and makes him sing Boris’s praises to the townspeople. The Information Commissioner (Irate) steps in to tell him that he is not allowed to use the townspeople’s own money to get elected ("Young man, despair!") Boris laughs and tells the assembled journalists that he fears nothing: he will have his friend Osborn (Chan.) in the Exchequer shower gifts on the wealthiest yeomen of the city in his budget tomorrow. Those yeomen will elect him to high office because the majority of the poor townsfolk can’t be bothered to vote ("'Tis done! I am a bride!")
As the skies darken over London, and the NHS and Welfare Reform Bills are signed into law, the townspeople cry out for a leader. Boris the Fair pulls in to an eight point lead over Ken the Red, the townspeople begin to worry, but still Ken remains silent. With the budget on the ‘morrow, and Boris the Fair still playing the role of the Jester-King, what hope is there for the hard-up townsfolk?
In Act III – will the Coalition budget see Boris’s chorus of Bankers hanging from lamp posts? Does Ken the Red have anything other than his magical elixir of bus-fare cuts to offer? And will Brian the Forgotten poll in anything above single figures? Come back after the interval for the next part in Das Ring Der Mayorung!
Even before the curtain rises on this production we are treated to a glimpse of one of the play’s most important protagonists: time. A projected sunray clock and its incessant ticking dominate the auditorium in the same way that the genuine article dominates the lives of the characters.
Alan Ayckbourn talked about the importance of time in this play when he staged a revival in 1997. Not only is the 1970s setting essential for the sexual politics of this piece to work, the passage of time in the piece – as close to real time as possible – magnifies the effect of every emotional beat. “The more your apparent elapsed stage time matches the actual time by the audience’s wristwatches, the nearer you might be deemed to have moved them to the action,” he wrote. “In effect you create the equivalent of a ‘close up’ lens.”
That close up effect certainly adds to the exquisite cruelty of Jeremy Herrin’s production. He has said that he didn’t want to “force” funny moments into the play, and quotes Richard Pryor’s maxim: “be truthful and the funny will come.” Certainly, his production eschews easy laughs, making the uneasy laughs all the more sweetly painful. He has evidently worked hard with the cast to define the meaning of each silence – more communication is packed into drawn-out seconds of mute awkwardness or anger than are usually managed in minutes of dialogue. The sound designer, Ian Dickinson, must be credited with weaving the sounds of the ever-present clock, the crying baby and even the sound of the rainfall so unobtrusively into the production that the clock in particular starts to feel like a character in its own right.
Reece Shearsmith’s portrayal of Colin stay’s just the right side of mannered. In his quieter moments you get the sense of an incurable optimist who has decided that a stubborn gratitude is the key to a happy life. It is only with the final line, delivered with a heart-breaking sincerity by Shearsmith, that we see what might lie beneath. The fluttering, anxious energy of Katherine Parkinson’s Diana contrasts beautifully with Evelyn’s (Kara Tointon’s) stillness.
Kara Tointon by Simon Annand
Tointon has a difficult task as she needs to reveal Evelyn and her motives with very little dialogue at her disposal. Ayckbourn hasn’t given Evelyn a single sympathetic ally in the play – even the irrepressibly cheery Colin feels the need to upbraid her about her attitude – but Tointon manages to endow Evelyn with a strangely moving cynicism. All three of the women clearly harbour dreams of more spacious lives but this production makes it clear that all three of them have chosen paths that led not to liberation but to bitterly regretted dead ends.
Ayckbourn is on record as saying that he was nervous about staging a play in which “nothing much is happening… I’m the boulevard man – I’ve no business writing sub-Chekovian plays with lots of subtext and not a lot of action.” But this production exposes every part of that subtext with a deft touch. Bernard Nightingale said that Absent Friends is about the death of love. It is, but it’s also about the agony of hope: the pain of hopes that are thwarted, hopes that are buried, and hopes that are kept alive long after their time has passed.
With just 50 days to go to the mayoral election, the race is heating up. After the long, twiddly overture the Boris and Ken show has finally opened with its first big number: Act One - the Public Transport saga...
Ken (Lab) is furious that TfL has made a one billion pound surplus in the last year. Moodys (credit rating agency) tells Boris (Con) and Ken that the money has come from staff cuts and fare rises and that the townspeople are ready to revolt. Ken tells London that he will not stand for this ("Sonno No Stando On the Upper Deck") and pledges to cut fares by 7% in his first six months. A Chorus of Bankers joins in, exclaiming that London can’t afford fare cuts (“Tutti mi Transporto is on Expenses”) but Ken counters with the furious 41 page denunciation of their claims (“Avete Visto TfL’s Bank Account?”)
Ken leaves the town square to deliver 250,000 postcards to the Townspeople explaining his transport policy.
Boris the Fair takes the stage to sing his famous drinking song (“Un Quarto di Milione Quid è Chicken Feed”) at which the Chorus of Bankers laughs and joins in the refrain. The Townspeople inexplicably do not use Ken’s 250,000 postcards to set fire to Boris and the Chorus at this point. Boris senses that the mood has turned against him and begins to sing of the fine work he has done for London’s transport infrastructure (“Tutti mie Belle Biciclette”) and, placated, the Townspeople join in the chorus (“Che Era l'Idea di Ken, Non è Vero?”). Boris then sings the moving “Liberty” aria, explaining that Freedom Passes will now be available to everyone from the age of 60.
Boris leaves the square on his bike. The Townspeople try to follow by bus while singing a rousing chorus of “E Molto Expensive Ma at Least Non è Bendy!” but none of them have enough money left on their Oystercards.
Act two will follow after a short interval!
After triumphant portrayals of Shakespeare’s greatest heroes, Patrick Stewart plays a defeated and defeatist version of the Bard in Edward Bond’s limping tragedy. The play is hampered from the outset by Bond’s desire to yoke together the ideas of a rich and powerful playwright dispossessing the poor with a stroke of his pen, and a bitter and defeated man who doesn’t know how to bond with his family in his declining years. Either one of these themes might have carried the play, but as it is they trip each other and leave it struggling to find its feet.
There are some scenes, and some performances, that transcend the stilted awkwardness of the play. The handful of people who left after the first act should be sorry that they missed Richard McCabe’s scintillating Ben Jonson. The play flashes into life for this scene where the younger playwright’s appetite for living makes for a brilliant contrast that throws Shakespeare’s black withdrawal into sharp relief.
There are also some beautifully poignant moments courtesy of Ellie Haddington and John McEnery and Shakespeare’s housekeeper and gardener. At first introduction it seems like Bond is offering up a pair of comedy domestics to keep bums on seats – a device Shakespeare himself wasn’t above using – but the performances by Haddington and McEnery breathe credible and moving life into characters that Bond never troubled to name. It is when Haddington shares the stage with Stewart that we finally see the flashes of this Shakespeare’s humanism and compassion. Michelle Tate should also be singled out for praise for her affecting performance as the (also unnamed) itinerant beggar-woman.
There are some very effective design choices in this production – the pared-down thrust stage has been used in a way that resembles that of the Globe theatre, with exits and entrances often made upstage and through the auditorium, which helps to lift the pace of the production. Visually, the production offers some well-thought-out touches, with use of simple, muted colour palettes and the ways in which the seasons are denoted.
All in all the production never quite manages to rise above Bond’s strident attempts to moralise. The text seems designed drive home the message that a disaffected and uncaring Shakespeare causes despair with a single stroke of his pen – Bond mirrors the public effects of Shakespeare’s agreement to the enclosure of his land with the private effects of his altered will. The play barely touches upon why Shakespeare might have protected his daughters’ inheritance and even this is imagined as an act of cold cruelty. In his text Bond seems to argue that Shakespeare has lost all humanity, but this play finds far less humanity than he deserves.
Bingo – Scenes of Money and Death The Young Vic Theatre until 31st March
This hidden gem on the upper storey of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre has been going from strength to strength since it opened just over two years ago. Almost put out of business by a massive flood, it reopened with exactly the same winning formula that it began with: excellent, fresh, Polish food at some of the cheapest prices in the capital.
The atmosphere is convivial and cosy: shared tables are the norm and you order at the counter and listen for your number to be called. The flatscreen TV is always tuned to Polish music television while the sauce bottles on the table are straight from the Warsaw branch of Tesco. But while it’s not a refined dining experience in terms of atmosphere, the food is enough to gladden the heart of the hardiest cynic.
The pierogi (a thin-shelled dumpling stuffed with minced pork, or with potato, white cheese and onion) and the bigos (a sausage, sauerkraut and bacon stew) are mouth-watering and (relatively) light options, but it’s in the stodgier fare that Mamuśka really shines. The pile of potato pancakes comes served with a spiced-to-perfection goulash, and the stroganoff equals any bistro fare I’ve had in London or Paris.
They serve Tyskie, Lech and Żywiec beers by the bottle, and “three vodkas” (actually the same vodka, but at room, refrigerator or freezer temperature). You can also get a coffee literally thick enough to stand your spoon in. Deserts are simple but generous and the apple pie is good enough to make you fire your mother.
The team at Mamuśka have done a fantastic job of bringing Polish cafeteria culture http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_mleczny to the heart of London. The daily specials change with the seasons and with the days of the week: Friday is always fish day, and this Thursday the 16th February (“Fat Thursday” in the Polish traditional calendar) Mamuśka is the place to get traditional Polish pączki. You can even follow @Mamuska_net on Twitter to see their daily specials.
It might not be the most romantic place to take your valentine, nor the kind of restaurant to impress a client in, but if you want good, fresh food that will keep out the London winter - at the kind of prices that will make you forswear cooking at home – do yourself a favour and head to Elephant and Castle and ask for Mamuśka!
Main courses £5, Starters £3, Deserts £3, Drinks £3. Three course meal for two (including gherkins) £30.
Monday - Wednesday: 7:00 - 00:00 Thursday - Saturday: 7:00 - 00:30 Sunday: 9:00 - 00:00
Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, 1st Floor
The triumphant production of Noises Off at the Old Vic has earned a well-deserved reprieve. Originally due to finish on the 10th of March it will live on at the Novello Theatre until at least the end of June, keeping audiences delighted through spring and beyond.
The Lindsay Posner production has received rave reviews, and deservedly so. On the cold winter’s afternoon that this reviewer went to see it, the warmth of the audience and the blisteringly hot comedy from the stage did the job of a week in the sun. The cast, led by the Olivier award winning Celia Imrie, make their split-second timing look effortless, and the sheer energy of the performance has been leaving audiences breathless for weeks. The production has been justly rewarded with an Olivier and an Evening Standard award and has garnered five-star reviews in The Guardian, The Times, and the Daily Telegraph.
The play originally began as a one act farce called ‘Exits’, which Michael Frayn wrote in 1977. The first full length version ran continuously from 1982 to 1987 with five different casts, and has since been adapted in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Italian. What is it about the play that makes it so timeless and so placeless?
Part of the play’s charm is that, unlike most farces which take place in recognisably bourgeois settings, Noises Off never leaves the artificial world of the theatre. This double escapism for the audience, being reminded that one is watching a play and simultaneously being transported into the strange world of the theatre, is a device as old as Shakespeare and it never seems to date. While some of the laughter is undoubtedly the laughter of recognition, Noises Off’s charm lies in its pure absurdity for an audience of non-actors. Nicky Henson, one of the original 1982 casts recalls that “the only people who didn’t like the play were the actors themselves because they felt like [it confirmed] some of the prejudices that people have about our profession.”
There are certainly some recognisable stereotypes in the play: the exasperated director who wants to work on higher things, the dimly incoherent actor who nevertheless wants to discuss his motivation at length, the saccharine-coated “trouper” with a heart of steel. These are people we can relate to without too much painful self-recognition. Janie Dee who plays Belinda Blair, the trouper of the ensemble, is the heart of this production. Her levels of optimism and her ability to hold things together as they descend into chaos mirror perfectly the destruction around her.
The three act play switches beautifully between the stage during dress rehearsal, backstage during an early part of the run, and the stage again towards the end of the run. It isn’t really fair to call this a play within a play, as the (fictional) play is the centre of the (real) play’s universe. The demands that it makes on the (fictional) cast, and the demands that they make of each other, are the seam that is mined for the rich vein of comedy within. The dialogue is slick and sharp but never by-the-numbers, but it is the wordless sections of this production that bring the greatest moments of revelation and hilarity. The production definitely deserves repeat viewing as the stage is so stuffed with business that it’s impossible to take in everything at once.
Noises Off is the highest-grossing production that the Old Vic has staged and is the first one that they have transferred to the west end. It follows the success of A Flea In Her Ear, John Mortimer’s translation of the Feydeau farce which ran in the same slot last year, and it joins the National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors in the stable of west end farces. Why has farce become so popular? Celia Imrie, talking on Radio 4, suggested that it is because people want escapism in times of crisis and uncertainty. There’s something to that, certainly, but Noises Off offers something else as well. The uplifting moral of the play is this: that even when everything falls apart, the show will go on.
Noises Off is booking to June 30th 2012 at the Novello Theatre.
The West End is overrun with stage adaptations of films at the moment: from the spectacular Lion King, to the pedantic, shot-for-shot remake of Dirty Dancing. But Graham Linehan’s warm-hearted adaptation of the 1955 film The Ladykillers stands out as a fresh and lively show in its own right.
From dream to screen the original film version took less than a year to make. It was, at the time, a darkly comic reflection of the ills of England in the post-war period. The film remains a classic, one of the best-loved Ealing comedies of all time, but surely Linehan was worried that a new version wouldn’t resonate with a modern audience nearly 60 years after the original? In a Q&A session with the BFI, Linehan explained one of the reasons The Ladykillers has such timeless appeal.
“I read [Director, Alexander] Mackendrick on this: they realised afterwards that Mrs Wilberforce represented a weakened but still strong Britain after the war and it was being attacked by all these criminal aspects.”
Mackendrick realised that each member of the gang is an allegory some quintessentially English fear of social breakdown. Professor Marcus (played here by Peter Capaldi) represents the too-flexible morality of the suspiciously intellectual. The Major (a tremendously engaging James Fleet) is the exploitative and decadent upper class, while One-Round (Clive Rowe) and Harry (Stephen Wright) are the violent working class and the jubilantly nonconformist criminal class. Add Ben Miller as Louis, the unpredictable foreigner, and you have a microcosm of the social neuroses that still exist in England today.
Perhaps The Ladykillers remains so popular because England, in the shape of Mrs Wilberforce and played as a perfect blend of dotty but imperious by Marcia Warren, triumphs in the end. Linehan again:
“Even without trying to England will survive the most appalling attacks on it [because] she has made up her mind a long time ago what is right and what is wrong. She never gives in.”
Peter Capaldi’s Professor Marcus is waspishly menacing and Marcia Warren brings a steeliness to Mrs Wilberforce that makes her a surprisingly credible opponent to the Professor and his gang. Clive Rowe as One-Shot seems terribly underused until a heart-warming tour-de-force near the end. James Fleet’s Major and Stephen Wright’s Harry are both beautifully fleshed-out portrayals of characters that could so easily have become caricatures.
Linehan described The Ladykillers as “a farce that doesn’t really get very farcical.” He has certainly preserved the darkly comic tone of the original in the script but Michael Taylor’s incredible dolls-house set lends itself to the pace and physicality of the farcical elements. From script through to design and direction it’s evident that this adaptation doesn’t just try to cope with the constraints of working on a stage; it joyfully and creatively embraces them. The production pulls some fantastic tricks throughout. I’ll just say this: don’t miss the getaway scene. To reveal any more would be criminal.
The Ladykillers runs until the 14th April 2012. Tickets from £25.