Friday, 30 April 2010

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

"...the fearful passage of their death-mark'd love"

Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard in Stratford marks his first foray there since 2006, now he’s an Associate Director and directs a well-established ensemble here at the RSC in tale of a Montague and Capulet whose love for each other in a hostile world defies a long-held bloody family feud with the most tragic of consequences.

Mariah Gale and Sam Troughton may seem like unconventional casting, but they work perfectly together as Juliet and Romeo. She’s a sulky teenager, rebelling at the marital fait accompli presented to her by her overbearing father (a terrifyingly chilling Richard Katz); he’s a hooded brooding soul, initially almost nerdily obsessed with Rosaline, both alone in their respective tribes but their first meeting awakens something deep inside of both of them and their chemistry together is just electric. He comes to life, dancing jigs of ecstatic joy, and she becomes alive to the possibilities of romantic and indeed sexual fulfilment. We never forget though that their’s is a tragic story, and Gale in particular is painfully strong in displaying the deepening realisation that their situation is not one that is tenable.

Cast of Romeo and Juliet continued

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Review: Debbie Reynolds - Alive and Fabulous, Apollo

“I know I’m alive, but have I been fabulous...?”

Making her first UK appearances since performing at the Palladium in 1974, Debbie Reynolds arrives at the Apollo theatre after a short UK tour with her one woman show, Alive and Fabulous. Accompanied by her longtime pianist (25 years together and counting) and drummer, she revisits her long and eventful career encompassing motion pictures, television, Broadway and Vegas shows and encounters with some of the biggest and brightest names ever to grace showbusiness.

And what stories she has to tell. Ranging from her colourful marriage history, to tales of quiet days with the children round at Judy Garland’s place, the anecdotes fly at us like sequinned bullets. On more than one occasion, the anecdotes are half-told as she whips through them a tad by rote and she flits onto the next one or a song with breathtaking speed. I guess this is part of the problem in trying to make a show feel fresh when the same old stories are repeated night after night and she did have lots of fun adlibbing and interacting with the audience much to the stalls’ delight. There’s also a few impressions, a great Katharine Hepburn and a wicked Barbra Streisand were my favourites and a couple of nods to her recent small screen success as Bobbi Adler in Will and Grace.

Review: Akram Khan - Gnosis, Sadler's Wells

I’m not the world’s greatest fan of dance it must be said, but I have been known dabble here and there and I actually saw Akram Khan a couple of years ago in in-i, his collaboration with Juliette Binoche, so when I was asked if I fancied Gnosis, a new work by Khan, at Sadler’s Wells, I thought I would give it a go. One of the greatest exponents of kathak dancing currently working, Gnosis is a fusion of this ancient style with more modern movement as well and it was originally meant to be premiered last year but a shoulder injury prevented it from being presented in its entirety. It is now in its fully fledged version and played for two nights here in London.

Khan dances on a mostly bare stage, with his musicians ranged on either side of him and with the highly effective stark lighting, the focus is clearly on the purity of the dance. With feverish twists and turns, stamps and intricate arms movements, Khan duels with the music to initially great effect. But I have to admit to finding it a little dull after a short while as there was no story being told and the solo dance became a little wearing, seemingly repeating move after move (I realise he probably wasn’t but that is what it looked like to this novice).

Review: Kontakthof, Barbican

Just a short review as it was a last minute cheap deal through Facebook and I'm never too sure what I'm saying when it comes to dance.

Kontakthof is a dance piece by Pina Bausch (now sadly passed away) for a large group of dancers which is set in a dancehall and purports to explore male/female relations and the pursuit of desire. It is performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal, the company for whom it was written, but there's a twist in its presentation here at the Barbican: there's two casts, one made up of over-65s and one made up of teenagers so you can have two very differing experiences here: I saw the teenage cast.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: Posh, Royal Court

"And these people think we're twats? Are we going to just sit here and take it..."

Posh, a new black comedy by Laura Wade at the Royal Court, follows a group of young toffs, calling themselves the Riot Club, as they meet up to get thoroughly drunk or “chateaued” and trash the private dining room of the Oxfordshire gastropub where they are spending the evening. It is apparently inspired by Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club which has given us such scions of society as David Cameron and Boris Johnson though I can’t see either of them making the trip to see this as it does rather skewer their antics (that said, the vast majority of the audience had a much closer affinity to the title than I would have imagined, and on cheap Monday prices too, shame on them!)

The writing is beautifully delicious in places, I loved the quip about reading languages in Newcastle (you’d have to, up there!), the scene with the prostitute with a mind of her own is wonderfully awkward and so much of the dialogue has clearly been finely crafted, reflecting the intelligence, no matter how odious they get, of many of these chaps. Wade also captures the righteous indignation of those who feel their birthrights have been slowly eroded but yet insist on the maintenance of the system of privileges that accompanies membership of the upper classes.

Cast of Posh continued

Monday, 26 April 2010

(Not a) Review: Ten Plagues – a work-in-progress, Royal Court

"In London 
Came the plague in sixteen sixty five 
One hundred thousand dead 
But I alive."

I’m a big fan of Marc Almond so when the opportunity to see him performing in a workshop of a new musical at the Royal Court came up, I was eager to snap up a ticket. Presented as an early part of the Rough Cuts season of works-in-progress and experimental readings, Ten Plagues is a new musical with libretto by Mark Ravenhill and music by Conor Mitchell.

Taking inspiration from both Samuel Pepys’ and Daniel Defoe’s accounts of living through the Great Plague of London, but also using Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphor to also help define the ideas, Ravenhill tells the story of a man’s journey through a city going through a profound crisis as one in five people die.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks; be bright and jovial among your guests to-night “

Opening the 2010 Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank is Lucy Bailey’s production of Macbeth. Fans of the Scottish play are being well-served this year: Cheek By Jowl may now have left the Barbican but you can catch them again in Brighton in May, the Open Air Theatre will be running a re-imagined for kids version in July or you can witness this decidedly less family-friendly production in the Globe.

Katrina Lindsay’s design has clearly taken the circular shape of the theatre into consideration and used the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno as the main inspiration. The Yard is mostly covered with a canopy, with holes for the groundlings to poke their heads through, representing the frozen sinners trapped in the underworld, and it is also populated with the occasional bloodsoaked writhing tortured soul popping up. I can’t comment on how comfortable or otherwise it was, but there’s plenty of room outside of the canopy if you’re not too sure about it: it did look fun though. The weird sisters therefore are the guardians of this final Hell and flow in and out of there onto the stage, trying to drag as many people down with them.

And lordy don’t they get a lot of bodies. This is a production very much attuned to and unafraid of just how much death is contained within Shakespeare’s text: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Macduff’s family dispatched so brutally, both Duncan’s and Lady Macbeth’s bodies are paraded onstage, it’s all very bloody and gruesome and huge amounts of fun.

Cast of Macbeth continued

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Review: Holding the Man, Trafalgar Studios

“I may have killed the man I love”

Importing the two main leads and the director from the highly successful Australian production, Holding the Man makes its UK debut at the Trafalgar Studios. Written by Tommy Murphy but based on Tim Conigrave’s 1995 memoir of the same name, it is a love story charting the high and lows of the relationship between Tim and John Caleo, the captain of the football team at their high school no less, over 15 years. It has garnered much acclaim in its native country, but added to that with this transfer is the UK stage debut of comic genius Jane Turner, Kath out of Kath and Kim, as you will not have failed to notice if you’ve seen any of the advance publicity for this show!

I went to see this play without knowing anything about it or the circumstances in which it was written and so therefore, its impact on me was phenomenal. If you don’t know anything about it either, then I have to say I would recommend coming back here at a later date to read this review, but rest assured that this is probably the first stone-cold must-see play of the year.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Review: Pressure Drop, Wellcome Collection

“Because that’s what we’re fighting for, innit…our roots”

In dealing with the rise of far right politics in East London, Pressure Drop could be just one of many similar plays, A Day at the Racists and Moonfleece both dealt with related themes very recently, but this is really is something special, bringing together Mick Gordon’s writing, songwriting from Billy Bragg and the unique venue of the Wellcome Collection, their first foray into theatre, as part of their Identity project.

Describing it as a ‘part-gig, part-concert, part-installation’ is somewhat unnecessary, it’s a promenade play with some songs in it, but it is a carefully judged production, balancing each of the elements well into a most satisfying whole. It looks at three generations of the Clegg family, white and working class in a rapidly changing East London, and how they struggle to maintain their identities even as everything familiar alters around them.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre

Women Beware Women is a cautionary tale of the consequences of the pursuit of wealth, power and lust in the 16th Century Florentine court written by Thomas Middleton. It takes up residence at the National Theatre, in the Olivier, as part of its Travelex season, so lots of £10 tickets should become available when the new season opens for booking to the general public on 30th April.

The plot goes a little something like this: Bianca, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian family, elopes to Florence with a poor merchant's clerk Leantio. While he's away on business the Duke of Florence sees Bianca and is determined to seduce her. Bianca leaves her husband when the Duke offers her a life of luxury. In a separate plot line, Isabella is faced with going into a loveless marriage with a rich yet stupid ward. She's appalled when her uncle Hippolito confesses his love for her. But her aunt Livia, Hippolito's sister, cunningly persuades Isabella that she isn't related by blood, so she's tricked into an incestuous relationship with her uncle. That’s clear, right?

This was the second preview so they are still clearly ironing out some issues: it was a full half hour shorter than the first outing, but still a lengthy three hours and the first half in particular had a very slow pace with little use of the vast space of the Olivier. It must be said though that this is as much a fault of the play as anything, too many scenes in which too little happens. Things only really kicked into life just before the interval for me, but once it did, the play flew furiously by as the machinations of all involved got more and more twisted resulting in a finale of epic proportions which currently has less of the ‘wow!’ factor and more of a ‘huh?’ factor. In a ten minute mostly wordless scene, each of the plot strands reaches its climactic end as the set endlessly revolves, resulting in a complete visual overload of information, currently with insufficient narrative clarity to drive home the true scale of what we have just witnessed. It also recalls the opening scene of the recent production of The Revenger's Tragedy which I can’t decide if it is a nice homage or just plain unoriginal.

Middleton’s strengths seem to lie in witty dialogue and being unafraid to go to delve in darker places than one might expect. That said, acting-wise, I found it solid rather than outstanding. Harriet Walter is strong as the manipulative Livia, but the honours probably go to Samuel Barnett who brings a real hurt and vulnerability to the cuckolded Leantio and Harry Melling has an absolute ball as The Ward, revelling in his insouciant foolishness and coming preciously close to stealing almost every scene he is in. Lauren O’Neill is also good as Bianca whose journey once sucked into the machinations of the Florentine court brings out a much darker side to her character.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Review: Ruined, Almeida

"People come here to leave behind whatever mess they made out there"

Working in partnership with Amnesty International, the Almeida theatre gives us the European premiere of Ruined, the Pulitzer Prize winning play from Lynn Nottage. It is set at Mama Nadi’s, a bar and brothel in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mama runs her bar with a rod of iron, serving anyone who will pay, no matter what side they are fighting for, along as they leave their weapons and their politics at the bar. As the civil war encroaches ever nearer and two new arrivals who have suffered particularly badly at the hands of soldiers, she is forced to reassess her life of providing women and whiskey without question and decide if it is enough.

As Mama Nadi, Jenny Jules is excellent. She’s rarely off-stage and holds the whole play together with her irrepressible hostessing, able to charm any customer yet possessed of an indomitable spirit, no soldier, no matter how threatening, gets past her with a weapon and she rules over her girls with a rod of iron. Starting off like Brecht’s Mother Courage, a similar profiteer from wartime chaos, her motivations remain mostly ambiguous but as events catch up with her, she becomes much more emotionally engaged. Jules is supported extremely well by Pippa Bennett-Warner as Sophie, bright and beautiful yet ‘ruined’ by a bayonet, Michelle Asante as Salima, gang-raped by soldiers but then even more painfully, shunned by her husband and Kehinde Fadipe as Josephine, the most sexually confident of the three but just as damaged. Together, they form an uncompromising group of women, scarred both inside and out by rebel soldiers, government soldiers, even their own families, and only able to dream of what might be in the (relative) safety of each other’s company.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”

Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.

This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals.

Cast of Antony and Cleopatra continued

Friday, 16 April 2010

Review: The Last Five Years, Barbican

"I think you're gonna really like this show, I'm pretty sure it doesn't suck"

Performed by actors and musicians from the adjoining Guildhall School, this production of The Last Five Years has set up in the Barbican Pit for a week, after two successful performances earlier this year. I saw this show last year when it was produced by the Notes from New York company, starring the incandescent Julie Atherton and I absolutely loved it. Of all the actresses that I love (and God knows there’s lots of them) Ms Atherton is close to the top of my list, I saw her in Avenue Q maybe 5 or 6 times which resulted in all my subsequent viewings of that show somewhat underwhelming as no matter how hard they tried, her replacements suffered from NJA Syndrome (not-Julie-Atherton…) So I was clearly a little trepidatious as I travelled down into the depths of level minus 2 at the Barbican.

The Last Five Years is a modern musical written by Jason Robert Brown, telling the story of a marriage in breakdown between Jamie, a novelist on the rise and Cathy, an actress struggling to make her mark. The twist is that Cathy tells her story starting at the end of the marriage working backwards whilst at the same time, Jamie begins at their first meeting and moves forward.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Review: Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna, Sadler’s Wells

"Come on Régine "

I’m not much of an opera-goer it must be said, but I have been a fan of Rufus Wainwright for a long time now and I have huge respect for people who fearlessly stretch their creative boundaries: names come to mind like Juliette Binoche taking on Akram Khan and dance in in-i, Damon Albarn’s own opera Monkey and even Graham Norton assuming the role of Zaza in La Cage aux Folles, these are artists willing to take risks in the face of harsh critics and a judgemental public, and I applaud them for following their creative instincts. To add to this list now is Rufus Wainwright, whose opera Prima Donna plays at Sadler’s Wells for four shows after its premiere in Manchester last year. It arrives in London though with a new director and a substantial redesign.

Prima Donna follows a day in the life of an opera singer, Régine Saint Laurent, who was the grande dame of Paris opera yet has not sung a note in six years after a crisis when performing Aliénor d’Aquitaine, a piece written for her especially. Sequestered away in a reclusive life with just a long-serving butler Philippe and a new maid Marie for company, she is struggling to face the demons that haunt her, yet a journalist André coming to interview awakens her desire to recapture her life on the stage.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Review: Oscar's World, Above the Stag

"No-one ever reaches the end wishing they hadn't done things differently"

Born in France and brought up on Sartre and Beckett, Alex Fiori’s new play Oscar’s World is an existential treat A married couple and their son spend day after day sat on their deckchairs looking out at the ocean, eating tinned rice pudding and searching in vain for the spirit of adventure that sent them away from civilisation in the hope of something more. They talk of leaving, but never quite get round to it despite Oscar’s dreams of the world beyond the horizon.

Carol Robb and Peter Saracen as Rose and Nono are very good as the ill-suited married couple who constantly “find themselves on the wrong side of the pond” and with Steven Serlin as the titular son form the dysfunctional family unit at the centre of the play, their character traits becoming more and more pronounced as the years roll by and eccentricities abound. But it is when Teresa Jennings’ French outsider joins the party that sparks begin to fly and the way in which Jennings plays the slow slide of Ziberline into the regular routine is excellently done, the emotion she brings to the final scene is remarkable. Christopher Mark completes the cast with a nice but tiny role.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic

"There's something scary about stupidity made coherent"

Consistency or stuck in a rut? Once again, the Old Vic presents a play set firmly in the 80s and advertised by posters featuring giant up-close portraits of its leading stars. Not knowing anything about The Real Thing did not prevent me from eagerly booking tickets when it was announced though, especially since I had loved Arcadia last year and the early casting news of Toby Stephens and Hattie Morahan filled me with joy. Described on the promotional material as an examination of the complex nature of love, art and reality and also as a modern classic, you’d think you couldn’t go wrong here, but how wrong I was to think that this would be the real thing for me though.

Set in London in the (early?) 80s, Henry is a successful playwright, married to his current leading lady but having an affair with another actress for whom he leaves his wife. He then ends up questioning whether this new marriage is indeed the ‘real thing’ but these issues extend to his professional life too as the question is continually posed about what is the most real, experiencing it for oneself or being able to write beautifully about it, even if it is happening to other people, ‘it’ ultimately being interchangeable for both art and love. It’s a bit tricksy in its format as one might expect from Mr Stoppard so you do need to pay attention from the outset.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Review: 1936, Arcola

“6 million unemployed cannot be gainfully employed in Greco-roman wrestling”

Taking place in an East London which is changing face, due in part to the arrival of the 2012 Olympics Games, 1936 is a well-timed production, running at the Arcola Theatre for most of April. Bookended by scenes set in the Berlin Olympic Stadium in 1948, the play is narrated by real-life journalist William Shirer as we cover events from 1931-1935 leading up to the Berlin Olympics in 1936 as the news about the burgeoning anti-Semitism under the Nazi regime began to spread throughout the world, forcing the American sporting community to make a stand against what they saw as a betrayal of the Olympic ideal.

Following threads both in Hitler’s regime as figures such as Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels tried to persuade the Fuhrer that the Games were an opportunity to promote Nazi Germany to the world, and in the US sporting administration as more principled people argued for a boycott in the face of bureaucratic resistance. Counterpointing these discussions are the experiences of two athletes, Gretel Bergmann a German Jewish high jumper and Jesse Owens the black American sprinter.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Wilton's Music Hall

“’Stop, ladies, pray.
‘A man!’”

So just a few days after seeing the touring production of Pirates in Brighton, another production appears in London: for such a fan of this show as I am, heaven! This particular Pirates of Penzance is a transfer of the all-male Union Theatre production from last year which has been remounted at the atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End, one of my favourite venues in London. And in a blatant attempt to make me fall yet further in love with the idea, preview ticket prices were set at £10, less than half the regular ticket-price.

To be honest, it did take me a little time to adjust to the different production: having seen (and completely loved) a highly professional version by an opera company so recently, this presents an interesting alternative take which was no less professional. What it perhaps lacks in the vocal side of things, it more than makes up for with a much greater sense of the comic potential contained within Gilbert & Sullivan’s work. And what makes this such an effective take on this show is that despite the conceit of an all-male cast, it actually has very little impact on the production itself. It is played as straight as a die, no (well, hardly any) camping it up or tipping the wink and so this becomes a refreshing new look at a musical already full of natural wit and genuine comedy, rather than being painfully self-aware and post-modern.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Review: Porn - The Musical, Theatre503

“Fate was about to unload on him like a football team on a lapdancer”

First off, if you’ve arrived at this page by googling one of the words above, then sorry to disappoint but Porn - The Musical contains no actual pornographic material. What you do get though is a really quite funny, high-energy madcap Maltese musical, via a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009. Young Stefan is happily engaged to Jade and living a quiet life as a carpenter in Malta but when it turns out that Jade is actually a huge slut who has slept with everyone on the island, the distraught Stefan packs his bag in search of a new life in the USA. When he is mugged as soon as he arrives, he ends up being sucked (fnarr fnarr) into the world of porn, but finds that it’s not quite what he expected. 

It really is very funny. The music by Boris Cezek (who is, according to the programme, well know in the Maltese music industry, how could you not love him!) and Kris Spiteri is tuneful enough, but the book, written by the same two plus Abigail Guan and Malcolm Galea who acts as the narrator is consistently laugh out loud funny. Galea drives things along with his interjections and there’s a real sense of his stand-up roots in the frequent slips out of character as the actors complain about one thing or another. This provides an almost anarchic feel to proceedings which works very well as it means it has the sharper edge of a comedy routine, especially in the role of Miscellaneous Man who plays a vast number of supporting characters, often in the same scene, which keeps the laughs coming.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Review: Studies for a Portrait, King's Head

"The situation I find myself in will be endured to a point, and no further"

After a run at the White Bear Theatre and another at the Oval House Theatre both last year, Studies for a Portrait takes up residence at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre for an 8-week run. Interestingly, its director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher will soon take up the role of Artistic Director at the King’s Head so this could be seen as a taster of things to come on Upper Street.

Julian Barker is one of the greatest modern American painters, on a par with Warhol and Bacon, but when he is diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer, he retreats to his summerhouse in the Hamptons to make preparations for his death, but also with the help of his much younger boyfriend Chad in creating a foundation, for his enduring legacy. There are not the only ones though, as an ex-boyfriend of Julian is hungry for both artistic and financial recompense and things are further complicated by Chad’s other boyfriend Justin, an even younger underwear model, is also staying with them.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Theatre Royal Brighton

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

"About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news, with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse"

The Pirates of Penzance is arguably one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s best-known works (and in my house, best-loved) and has been revived here by the Carl Rosa Opera Company as part of a national tour, starting off at the Theatre Royal Brighton. Truth be told, I love this musical: I had a video of the film version with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt as a child which I used to watch endlessly and can sing along to most all the songs! This is therefore a special week for me as I'll be seeing two different versions of Pirates as the all-male production at Wilton's starts previews at the end of the week.

Probably best described as a romp, it involves a group of tender-hearted pirates in their quest to conquer the hearts of a bevy of blushing maidens, daughters of the local Major General, the efforts of the bumbling local constabulary to apprehend them, a love triangle between a former pirate’s apprentice, his old nurse-maid and one of the daughters, oh and a most ingenious paradox.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse

“Where’s Kay, is she in Oslo?
'No, she’s in the cellar.'”

Polar Bears is quite a coup for the Donmar Warehouse, being the first play written by celebrated novelist Mark Haddon. After the huge success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which featured a lead character with Asperger’s Syndrome and its follow-up A Spot of Bother, Haddon has now turned his hand to the theatre.

If you can, I would recommend going into this play with as little knowledge of it as possible, as it really does enhance the whole effect of it to no end. The review that follows does not contain any plot spoilers per se but it does discuss the nature and structure of the play which in itself is a bit spoilery, so if you’ve not seen it yet and you intend to, look away now! (But do come back afterwards xx)

Monday, 5 April 2010

Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough

“You understand how the world turns on successfully practised duplicity? On cunning lies?”

I think Phil Willmott and I would be very good friends. Creator of two of my favourite musicals in recent months, joyous works both, and whilst I may not have entirely approved of F**king Men, I can see where he’s coming from as it were. So I was quite upset when Phil went and ruined our friendship by choosing Chekhov as his next project, why Phil why? Still, all is not lost as it is at least Chekhov once removed.

The Notebook of Trigorin is described as a ‘free adaptation’ of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull by American playwright Tennessee Williams. It’s quite the moment for Williams rarities in London with one of his earlier plays Spring Storm at the National Theatre and this Notebook both being performed for the first time in the capital. It mostly follows the plot of Chekhov’s original, so Masha loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who is also loved by Arkadina. Williams’ conceit is to make Trigorin the focus of the play and with more than a hint of autobiographical detail, makes him a closeted homosexual. So the tangle of relationships, with the destructive mother/son dynamic between Arkadina and Constantine at its core, becomes centred around the self-possessed Trigorin who is in the midst of all the tragedy in the play, yet remains unscathed by it.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Review: Spring Storm, National Theatre

“I don’t know anything about Strindberg but it don’t sound practical to me”

The other part of the Young America mini-season at the National, Spring Storm is Tennessee Williams’ second play, written whilst still at college and this is apparently the first time the play has been performed in Europe. Set in the Mississippi delta, Southern belle Heavenly has almost everything a young woman could desire, but when she’s forced to decide between dull and respectable suitor Arthur and her handsome, wild lover Dick, her actions cause a chain of consequences that tear their lives apart.

I loved the fact that the central love triangle was cast the same as in Beyond the Horizon. As the impassioned Heavenly, Liz White is superb, throwing herself about with gay abandon in search of the grand amour that will satisfy her beating heart but also aware of the need to secure her position in life to avoid spinsterhood. Her performance here could have been the younger cousin of Rachel Weisz’s Blanche DuBois, one can definitely see how Williams’ incubated that character here. As her suitors, Michael Malarkey does better as the dull and mannered but rich Arthur, playing him with a real note of sadness , carrying much baggage from childhood. As the more masculine, rugged Dick, Michael Thomson brings such a real sexuality and physicality that one can see why Heavenly is reluctant to quit him, but it would have been nice to see more to him than the dumb jock.

Cast of Spring Storm continued

Review: Beyond the Horizon, National Theatre

“You and me ain’t like most brothers”

As part of a ‘Young America’ season, Beyond the Horizon, the first play by Eugene O’Neill is being performed in rep with Tennessee William’s second play, Spring Storm at the Cottelsoe at the National Theatre. Originally produced by the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, the two works have been transferred down with their original casts, who play roles in both works, showing the connections between these two American playwrights as they formed their artistic visions.

Set on a rural New England farm, we follow the lives of two brothers Andy and Rob Mayo. Andy has taken on his father’s mantle with a great knack for farming and an understanding of the land whilst Rob is a dreamer with no interest in farming and a hankering for discovering life and the world beyond the horizon. When a declaration of love intervenes with the plans that have been made in order for the brothers to follow their dreams, a chain of decisions is set in motion and the play then traces the consequences of these actions through the ensuing years.

Cast of Beyond the Horizon continued

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Review: Hair, Gielgud Theatre

“Gliddy gloop gloopy nibby nobby nooby la la la lo lo”

Bloody immigrants coming over here and stealing our jobs... The Gielgud Theatre finds itself taken over by the musical Hair, but in what is described as a history-making transfer of the entire original Broadway cast. This was also a first encounter for me with this musical: I've never seen it or knowingly heard anything from it either, indeed when I mentioned this to people this week, they all proceeded to sing something about the age of Aquarius at me which rang precisely no bells whatsoever!

Hair is an examination of 1960s hippie culture, looking at a group of young adults struggling to define their identity in the face of generational pressures, the temptations of drugs and sex and most significantly, the dark shadow of the Vietnam War. The story as such that exists centres around Claude, a leader of sorts of the Tribe, a group of friends hooked on easy living with drugs and sex and who are all avowedly anti-war, determined to avoid being shipped to Vietnam. Claude’s sense of duty however means he is conflicted about the correct course of action for himself and it is his journey that drives the little narrative there is. 

Friday, 2 April 2010

Review: Beyond the Pale, Southwark Playhouse

“Welcome to the South Wark Rescue Centre”

If you want to sit down whilst at the theatre, then you’re probably best keeping away from the theatres just south of the river at the moment: one can trek through the Old Vic tunnels, stand at the Young Vic’s recreation of a submarine space or explore the Southwark Playhouse in full at Beyond the Pale. This is an interactive theatre piece, so the audience is invited to participate in the drama by speaking to the characters at any point. Sometimes we’re observers in a scene; sometimes we’re active participants; either way, there are opportunities to find your own way through the story and influence the events that happen.

It is set in a dystopian parallel world where violence in South London has swelled to epic proportions leading the government to build a wall around the borough of South Wark to try and contain the problems. Without proper government, anarchy soon came to reign and all connections were severed. 15 years later, the borders have been tentatively reopened and some charitable workers have made attempts to try and make a difference to these abandoned people. We come into the picture a further 5 years later as part of a new effort to recruit volunteers and to solve the ‘problem’ of South Wark. I can’t say much more as I don’t want to ruin it, and in any case, everyone’s experience ought to be unique as they engage in different ways with the performance.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Top Ten plays of March

Top Ten plays for the month of March, quite a choice but the top five was clear to me.

1. Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi
The White Guard 
3. A Day At The Racists
4. London Assurance
5. Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
6. Hedda Gabler
7. Shirley Valentine
8. Anyone Can Whistle
9. Disconnect
10. Hannah Waddingham: Live at the Chocolate Factory

Review: The Empire, Royal Court Upstairs

"Patch you up, all nice like, splint, bandage your leg. All very civilized actually. But then. Then. We hand you over.”

Played out in real-time in war torn Afghanistan, The Empire is the latest work to take up residence upstairs at the Royal Court. Only the second play by DC Moore, it promises "to dissect the politics of occupation, home and abroad". 

In the aftermath of a bloody skirmish, a mysterious wounded prisoner is guarded a young British soldier, Gary, and his Afghan colleague, nicknamed Paddy although really monikered Hafizullah. Along with Gary’s commanding officer, they await logistical support and much needed medical assistance but in the long wait under the burning desert sun, questions are asked and frustrations boil over in the search for the truth of just what is going on.