Sunday, February 13, 2011

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #13 Soho Theatre

"You can't try and tell me that Soho Theatre is a fringe venue".

I look across at Breakfast Club Boy.

"As I've set out on the blog - the rules are-"

BCBoy stops me. "I've read the rules and your attempt to justify them."

Bugger. I forget he does stuff like read this blog.

"Also - I don't like the pizzas at the Lyric Hammersmith. They're overpriced."

Suddenly, everyone's a critic.

In an ideal blog exchange I'd have come back with something scathing and witty at this point. Instead I make a sort of squeaky "meh, meh, meh" noise.

But, for all people might poke and question - I REFER YOU BACK TO THE RULES (and the fact that I'll have a proper non-capitalised discussion on what 52:52 has suggested 'fringe' might be at a later date).

Which is why I'm at the Soho Theatre for 52:52. Or, really, the Soho Theatre and Writers' Centre. That bit has got to warm my heart. The building itself is all glass new build in the heart of Soho, complete with an entrance to the Box Office that I always think won't open (it's a fire door, which confuses me no end). If the writer bit didn't give it away, new writing is (spot my theme of 52:52) how Soho defines itself. Only - that's not entirely true. For Soho also houses a lot of comedy. I can't comment much on that because I've never actually seen any comedy there. But then I hardly ever see comedy anywhere.

I, however, have a rather particular association with this venue: namely of being force-fed whisky in the bar 30 minutes before the rehearsed reading of foreverafterwards in order to STOP MY CRAZY.

It's a visceral memory I have to confess.

Ivan and the Dogs, however, is pretty much the opposite of that memory. It's quiet and gentle and spreads out around you slowly and deftly. As a young boy Ivan runs away from home to escape from his abusive stepfather. On the freezing streets of Yeltsin's Moscow he befriends a group of wild dogs and what emerges, childlike and fragile, is a story so quietly bleak that you cannot but wish this were simply a fairy tale. Of course you know it's worse than that; Ivan is based on the true story of Ivan Mishukov.

Hattie Naylor's script rolls with childlike attention from one event to the next, each crashing into each other with an immediacy which Rad Kaim, as Ivan, owns completely. Ivan judges nothing, it's left simply for the audience to infer the waste of life and hope and childhood around him. As his world shrinks, the icy cold white box which imprisons Kaim on stage betrays the starkness of the story he has to tell us.

Out of the theatre and seated on the top deck of the 176 as my favourite view in London loomed before me I looked out of the window and had a little cry. If I could have made George Osborne watch any play I saw in 2010 then this would be the one.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Ivan and the Dogs, Hattie Naylor

Type of space: Main theatre seating 140, studio theatre that is really - and oddly - wide, a large bar which is (I believe) franchised.

Type of productions: New work, comedy and, currently, an opera.

Nearest Station: There website helpfully informs me that the nearest tube is Tottenham Court Road. Obviously I didn't use the tube to get there because there's Charing Cross Train station and the 176.

Seating: (In the main theatre) Padded seating of the bench-sort with a good rake, excluding the front two rows. So, unless you want your view obscured, don't sit in the second row. There's some seating at the top on stools which is of the bendy-neck Cottesloe variety.

Condition of toilets: Large, spacious and suitable to sit in for a few minutes when the whisky has gone to your head.

Bar produce: Okay - not cheap. Didn't buy anything before Ivan because of remembering the prices being silly previously.

Other comments: Both theatre and studio are up a couple of flights of stairs. There is a lift but, if like me, you're too embarrassed to use it, get ready for a little hike.

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