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Ed Hall's Propeller Party

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I simply don't know how Edward Hall can run Propeller and the Hampstead Theatre, but he says that he can with a lot of travelling and the internet.

He was on good form at the opening of his two new productions in Sheffield on Friday: The Comedy of Errors is a riot, Richard III a nightmare of nastiness in a hospital ward.

The pairing proves inspirational, and a larger-than-usual Propeller all-male company of fourteen should take the rest of the country -- not to mention a bit of America, at BAM and Ann Arbor in late March -- by storm.

In the interval of Comedy at Sheffield, the actors decamped to the foyers of the Lyceum and regaled us with an impromptu selection of 1980s hits, leading off with Material Girl.

Some of the Me and My Girl company, just finishing their run in the adjacent Crucible, were on hand to join in enthusiastically, none more so than Miriam Margolyes, Patrick Ryecart and Jemima Rooper. 

(Will Me and My Girl, which everyone loves, come into the West End? Possibly some time soon at the Savoy; the other musical everyone loves, the RSC's Matilda, is slated for the Shaftesbury next autumn, I hear...)

Anyway, that was one interval. In the others, Daniel Evans and his team laid on drinks and snacks -- chicken wings, risotto balls, that sort of thing -- which was very nice of them, but I did go to my bed without a proper meal inside me. Never was a full English breakfast more eagerly anticipated.

It was pleasant to sit down with one's fellow critics and hear, for instance, how Libby Purves of The Times once played one of the murdered princes in Richard III at Oxford.

Or how Lyn Gardner of the Guardian gets serious aggro when she tweets unfavourably about a show, the aggro-ists complaining that this is a tweet, not a review.

This is one sort of minor riposte to the American article in The Observer yesterday about critics being made superfluous by the social media.
Blogging and tweeting are not the same as writing criticism (this is not a review), nor should they be, nor do blogging and tweeting replace, subvert or necessarily compliment criticism, which is an act of literary and intellectual intervention that is in theory at least something worthwhile in itself.

I'm not aware of bloggers championing the really important, new or unexpected in the theatre. Critics do that, and place contemporary theatre in historical contexts, and write across a whole range of theatrical experience, not one narrow part of it.

Anyway, Lyn is a dedicated blogger and tweeter, and also a damned good critic, so there's absolutely no reason why you can't have the best of all possible gabbing worlds.

I hadn't been in Sheffield since the Crucible has been refurbished. They've stuck up a rather grim poem by Harold Pinter on the foyer wall, which must give an audience some pause before entering:

"Laughter dies out but is never dead. Laughter lies out the back of its head. Laughter lies at what is never said. It trills and squeals and swills in your head. It trills and squeals in the heads of the dead."

Blimey, I should think that doubles the bar takings even before the show has begun. Clever move, Daniel.

The Crucible is revving up for its David Hare season: not just the three plays (Plenty with Hattie Morahan, Racing Demon with Malcolm Sinclair, and The Breath of Life -- the one quality the play itself didn't have when first done with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith -- with Isla Blair and Patricia Hodge); but also play readings and a whole festival of Hare TV plays and feature films.   
I'm amazed this sort of thing isn't done more often in the regional theatres. But Sheffield's innovation seems wonderfully obvious. And, in Hare's case, richly deserved, almost overdue, you might say, blog or tweet.


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