Friday 8 October 2010

Autumn theatre: Jack the Knife / Enlightenment / Barbican shows

Gatecrashing a party always feels a bit weird.

And so it felt last night when I went to the Drill Hall - a venue new to me. They have two spaces - it was in the cosier studio space downstairs that I went to see Jack Klaff perform Jack the Knife. Klaff himself was there, shaking hands and greeting the audience: it was the first night, and the entire audience comprised friends and acquaintances. In answer to "Hello, who are you?" I could only lamely retort "just paying audience..."

But the handshakes were deliberate, as Klaff later explained: they are a manipulative technique, sucking you into the performer's inner circle, making you part of his life. For this is a piece about performing itself: the tricks, the subtleties. It's also a personal retrospective of Klaff's career. The combination of not being familiar with his work, there being plenty of theatre industry in-jokes, and surrounded by his mates, all added up to the feeling of being at someone else's party.

None of which detracted from the quality of the show.

It is certainly a show designed for people who are regular theatre-goers - if you're a twice-a-year Blood Brothers-and-panto person, then I might gently point you elsewhere. But Klaff is a natural storyteller in the oldschool sense. The kind of bloke you can imagine holding centre ground in the pub. The show begins organically - you barely realise it's started - and we dart between childhood tales, to outrageous impressions of South African academic colleagues, explorations of philosophical concepts like choice, tongue-in-cheek digs at the theatre industry, Elgar, Paul Schofield, and anecdotes of his foul-mouthed mother. Fiftysomething Klaff had an old school friend in the audience, who tutted and hilariously put him right every time he used artistic license in embellishing old stories (this only added to the experience!)

When I was about eighteen I watched Woody Allen's Sweet & Lowdown and was intensely irritated to discover it was about a fictional character...but, over time, I appreciated the quality of the film. I also read a biography of Kerouac without having read any of his works! Despite being a personal retrospective, Jack the Knife will appeal even if you haven't come across Klaff before. I meant to see it in Edinburgh over the summer (it was at Assembly), definitely glad I was able to put things right. Highly recommended. Final night tonight.

There are plenty of promising things coming up, too. Hampstead Theatre have Enlightenment. The Hampstead have a new Artistic Director in Edward Hall and this is his first production in his new role. He has a good pedigree, having worked with Propellor, and anyone who's directed an episode of Spooks gets thumbs up from me! Enlightenment promises to be a psychological thriller about the lengths to which people will go to find the missing pieces of their lives. The trailer is here - the show looks promising and worth checking out. I've already spotted that local councillor Andrew Marshall has been and loved itUntil Saturday 30 October.

Talking of directorial movements, it's a great shame that Michael Grandage is stepping down from the Donmar Warehouse. Hopefully this will just mean he's off to do even greater things but he's been responsible for some spectacularly good productions over the last few years - notably Othello and Hamlet, although his Ivanov and Twelfth Night were also excellent (only Danton's Death was lame). Big blow for the Donmar, but I'm sure they'll bounce back.

Meanwhile there are all sorts of tasty treats at the Barbican. Black Watch, although it's exorbitantly expensive, is actually one of those rare things that justifies the hype. There's enough of that around already so I won't add to it, everything that needs to be said has already been, just get a ticket and go. It's astonishingly powerful. Lullaby sounds intriguing (Reuters report here), while the excellent Song of the Goat Theatre from Poland bring their own version of Macbeth. Finally, Complicite have Sun-Kin which also promises to be worth trying.

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