August 2nd, 2012

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Chariots of Fire, Gielgud

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I am re-running this feature as I saw Chariots of Fire at the Gielgud today as part of the Whatsonstage group outing. Although it is not as immersive as it was at the Hampstead (and therefore not as good), I still loved it to pieces and this remains my top theatre tip for Summer 2012 - along with Posh.

Cut and pasted from the Chariots of Fire Website:


Celebrate one of this country's most thrilling and greatest ever sporting achievements this Summer, as Chariots of Fire lights up the West End at the Gielgud Theatre.

Adapted from the legendary Oscar-winning movie, this spectacular and ingenious retelling of Eric Liddell's and Harold Abrahams' quest to become the fastest men on earth is an electrifying and immensely moving tale of two men's rivalry, and their unwavering determination to conquer the world in the face of prejudice, immovable beliefs and overwhelming odds.

Adapted for the stage by award-winning writer Mike Bartlett and featuring the original, hugely iconic Vangelis score and a magnificent ensemble cast under the direction of Edward Hall, Chariots of Fire brings alive the incredible true story of two British athletes whose honour, sacrifice and courage brought them glory and immortality on the greatest sporting stage of all.

In an extraordinary Summer, this is one theatrical event that will leave you breathless with excitement.

Follow the link below for the full production details, to watch the AMAZING trailer, and to book tickets:

James McArdle as Harold Abrahams and Jack Lowden as Eric Liddell
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Raks's Reaction

"The Theatrical Event of 2012". I fully agree with this statement and I am backing the production 100%.

I have now seen it four times and it totally and utterly blows me away. I think it is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen at the theatre. It makes my heart race and stop dead at the same time! In a nutshell, mind-blowing and amazing. Truly exceptional.

I originally booked to see this purely because London is hosting the Olympics this year. I am not going to a single London sporting Olympics event (I will be watching at home on my telly, like most people, or at All Souls on the big screen). But I booked to see this as this was my way of paying tribute to the fact that London is hosting the Olympics this year. It is the closest I am getting to the London Olympics! If you are not able to get the Olympic tickets that you want, I highly recommend coming to see this as an alternative; being a theatre not a sports fan, I would argue that this is way better!

The first thing I wanted to talk about was the staging. I can honestly say that I think the staging is quite simply the best I have ever seen. Over the course of the show, the stage becomes many things, including the closed and closeted world of Cambridge, and all the settings are 100% believable and convincing. The staging totally transported me to that time, that place and that world, be that Cambridge, Scotland or Paris.

There is a great prologue to the piece with the actors all on stage, warming up. Stretching, preparing, jogging, running around the track, all set to music. I loved that!

Which brings me onto the second thing that I wanted to talk about, the actors. The acting across the whole ensemble was exceptional. It is unfair to single people out but I am going to give a special shout out to a few of the actors who spoke to my heart. Jack Lowden. I have never seen him before in anything and he just blew me away. He really conveyed a young man, torn between his passion for running and his family/family duties and responsibilities, who was steadfast and resolute in standing his ground and sticking to his principles ("I won't run on the Sabbath"), even in the face of pressure from HRH Prince of Wales. James McArdle was excellent. He played Agathon in Emperor and Galilean and so, like all the actors associated with that production, will always have a special place in my heart. Finally Sam Archer, who I have seen many times in a range of productions for New Adventures, was also exceptional; he always is.

The energy and excitement that the actors put onto the stage was phenomenal. This was especially true of all the "races" that were shown, right from the dash around the College Quad to the 100m and the 400m at the Paris Olympics. The staging is such that the track snakes right round and through the audience so that the actors are running at full tilt right by you as an audience member. This is a real thrill! And the constant firing of the starting gun never failed to make me jump every time it went off, even though I was expecting it!

There is a lot of music, singing and dancing in the production, which I was not at all expecting. James McArdle can sing very well! The music was usually live and all of it was fun and energetic. The music and dance ranged from waltzes, to "Three Little Maids", to Scottish music and dancing!

I really felt a part of the piece, I was totally involved and engaged from the off, and actually I was desperate to get on the stage and join in! (don't worry, I didn't!). The audience in this show are part and parcel of the piece, they create the specific energy of the show on the night that they are seeing it.

The finale with both the Chariots of Fire theme tune and Jerusalem playing really spoke to me, bringing a tear to my eye and tugging at my heart. It really meant a lot to me. (I joined in singing Jerusalem; I couldn't resist; it is my favourite hymn of all time! Then again I used to join in with reciting The Lord's Prayer at the end of Emperor and Galilean!).

I gave the production a standing ovation. I could do no less; to have given anything less than a standing ovation would have been a travesty.

In a nutshell, mind-blowing and amazing. Truly exceptional.

Jack Lowden: Go Jack Go! Run like the wind!
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Parades End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, BBC

parades end
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Highlights cut and pasted from the BBC Website:

Parade's End: Sir Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford's series of novels for BBC Two

Mammoth Screen's epic BBC Two drama and HBO drama mini-series, Parade's End, stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town, The Awakening) and heralds the return of Sir Tom Stoppard to British television.

Parade's End is a flagship five-part drama adapted by internationally acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard from a quartet of novels by Ford Madox Ford, widely acknowledged be one of the literary masterworks of the 20th century. It is directed by multi Emmy-nominated and Bafta-winning film maker Susanna White.

Parade's End is set during a formative period of British history – from the twilight years of the Edwardian era to the end of the First World War. At its centre is English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch), his beautiful but wilful wife Sylvia (Hall), and Valentine Wannop, a young suffragette, played by Logie-nominated actress Adelaide Clemens.

"What Benedict Cumberbatch has managed to do is bring Christopher’s inner life to the forefront. He makes him utterly mesmerising, even when he just appears to be watching things unfold around him. He makes for a very interesting and unusual kind of hero. He has this very strong moral code, fierce intellect, and in lots of ways rejects the 20th century, exasperating the people around him; he has this huge brain but doesn’t want to engage with things that are happening and unfolding. He drives Sylvia to madness but somehow Benedict makes this incredibly accessible and really fascinating."

"I think an audience will identify with the central love story and see that these people were living through an extraordinary time when the world was turned upside down. And I think that’s something that resonates at any time. Our value system is very different to the world of Christopher’s and yet I think we can feel empathy for characters who are stumbling as they watch the world around them be transformed."

Read the full article here:

Highlights from interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, cut and pasted from the BBC Website:

An interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Christopher Tietjens, in Sir Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Parade's End for BBC Two

In Parade's End, Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role of Christopher Tietjens; a blockheaded man, a man born out of his time but ultimately a hero.

Says Benedict: "Parade's End is an elegy to the death throes of the Edwardian upper classes seen through the paradigm of a love triangle between Christopher, Sylvia Satterthwaite, his wife, and a young suffragette, Valentine Wannop. It takes place over a 10 year span before, during and after the First World War. The action moves from Groby in Yorkshire, the Tietjens family seat, to the corridors of power in Whitehall, the drawing rooms of high society and then from Rye to Germany and the trenches of Belgium. It is about a rapidly changing world being overtaken by politics and a war that in its appalling leadership sent eight million to their deaths and precipitated the end of Empire.

"I have such a huge affection for Christopher, more so than almost any other character I've ever played. I sympathise with his care, sense of duty and virtue, his intelligence in the face of hypocritical, self serving mediocrity, his appreciation of quality and his love for his country. He mourns a way of life that is being eroded by money, schemers and politicians, ineffectual military boobies and the carelessness of man's industrialised progress. He is a noble if accidental hero fighting for relevance, a man out of time who is struggling with political and economic injustice. That's what makes him relevant in what could be dismissed as 'merely another Toff in a period drama'.

"The extraordinary relationship he has with his damaged, bored, dangerously privileged wife, Sylvia, is a very familiar tale of two people who intentionally or otherwise destroy each other by loving each other in the wrong way; he with a kindness and propriety which infuriates and drives her to the opposite extreme. The sexual chemistry between them and the deep mutual respect and love leads them both to hope for the ability to change each other and it is this that results in the destruction of their marriage. Christopher then meets Valentine, an extraordinary young kindred spirit and intellect who provokes him into 'gathering his thoughts' and who fells him like a lightning bolt with her boyish beauty and pluck. He is unable to do anything about his attraction to her because of his adherence to the principle of what he calls 'Parade' - the principle he expects of a man in a family of standing. But his propriety backfires, as does his attempt to right any wrongs and in combination with the enemies he makes (some of whom are Sylvia's lovers) results in him facing the reality that he is living by 'an outmoded code of conduct'. The tragic results of which make him a fool. He's bankrupted, his disgraced name attached to rumours of affairs and illegitimate children with Valentine bring about his father's death. He's without the bed or company of Sylvia and facing certain death on the western front. His decision to fight in the trenches comes from a need to will his bulk into standing up honestly in front of the guns rather than massaging the books and figures to justify all the stupidities of war that his hypocritical yes men masters at Whitehall wish him to do. He's a superior brain but an inferior soldier and having already been severely concussed on his first outing by a shell he begins to lose his intellect. He really is a tragic figure but he does find redemption in becoming an accidental hero at the front and taking Valentine as his lover if not his wife and finally severing ties with Sylvia by letting her keep Groby and Michael, her son. The 'parade' he lives his life by ends at the same time as the parade to disband the surviving volunteers ends the First World War.

Benedict continues: "On a domestic drama level it's cosmetically about a failed relationship; two people who love each other but want utterly different things from each other and end up destroying each other in the process. Christopher is killing Sylvia through kindness and tolerance, she is killing him through extravagance, infidelity and bad behaviour. What makes him heroic is the idea that he stands for what he believes in with utter transparency and to hell with the consequences of living by what he believes.

"And yet it's such an ever changing world that he ends up being foolish in a lot of situations, reduced to being a comic butt of circumstance. He is buffeted in every single direction by a changing world, which he sometimes stubbornly refuses to adapt to but sometimes just can't understand. He doesn't want to understand because it's so divorced from the pragmatism of who he is and what he's about, which is honour, serving above and below, being loyal to the past and doing your duty."

And Benedict is confident the drama has huge resonance for a modern audience:

"We're living through a time where we are fighting wars fostered by politics, admittedly not on the same scale as the First World War, but with equally tragic realities for our soldiers and their families. We are living in a world where financial and political bonds in Europe are just falling apart, we're living in time of political hypocrisy and there aren't that many really good people and Christopher is just that: a good man.

"His care for his country, his past his family, Michael, Sylvia, Macmaster, Groby, the land and the great cedar tree, horses and his men on the front line all lead me to love this fat, baggy bolster of a blockhead with all my heart. It's what distinguishes him from being 'yet another toff' to being quietly but truly heroic. His virtue and diligence but also the fights and principles he stands for are in many ways modern and thoroughly relevant to today, which again salvage him and the drama from being a nostalgia piece. His concern for the environment, the structure of a family, the corrupting elements of money and politics and our move away from a sustainable society into a consumer society of short term interest are all contemporary issues. Maybe they have been since the industrial revolution but we are a century on since his time and we are still fighting wars, raping the planet, living fractured family lives and living with the consequences ever more potently.

"By accident this is the second project I did last his year which has a grand metaphor and is really saying we are now going to reap what we have sown. Frankenstein was all about the idea that through electricity and the destruction of night, man creating light and darkness, we took on god like powers and then abused them like gods and we are only men. That a story about man making a man in his own image. The inversion of natural order. And whether you have belief in religion or not it's more about the fact that we've taken our resources well beyond their capability to sustain the development that our excursions into technology have needed. I think both of them are warnings. If Parade's End is more in line with man destroying man in all out war".

Read the full interview here: