Friday, 7 December 2018

Theatre review: Drip

Tom Wells' Folk centred on a folk-singing, spoon-playing nun, while his Broken Biscuits WHICH NEVER CAME ANYWHERE NEAR LONDON SO I DIDN'T GET TO SEE IT, AS IF THAT'S AN ACCEPTABLE STATE OF AFFAIRS was about teenagers putting a band together. So you could say music's been becoming more and more central to the playwright's work, or you could say he's been inching ever closer to writing a musical. Well Drip is classified as a one-man musical comedy, although "play with songs" is probably a closer description - maybe don't chuck a full tap-dancing chorus at Wells just yet, he's building up to it slowly. This is about teenager Liam (Andrew Finnigan,) and while it's set in Wells' beloved Hull Liam isn't quite as at home there yet - he moved there a year ago when his mother remarried, and he's not yet made a lot of friends there.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Theatre review: The Night Before Christmas

Anthony Neilson’s The Night Before Christmas is inevitably nothing like any story called The Night Before Christmas anyone else would write, although that is when it takes place, in the last hour of Christmas Eve. Gary (Douggie McMeekin) has a warehouse full of knockoff goods, a business that’s technically legal as long as you don’t look too carefully at where everything came from. On Christmas Eve he catches an intruder (Dan Starkey) dressed as an Elf, with track marks on his arms and a bag of tools useful for breaking into buildings, who tells him he’s fallen off Santa’s sleigh, and Gary mustn’t call the police or it’ll cancel Christmas. With the possible explanations being “junkie trying to steal something to fence” and “magical elf who’ll die if he doesn’t get his Christmas happiness powder,” Gary is convinced by the latter option, and calls his friend Simon (Michael Salami) for help with what to do next.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Theatre review: Jeannie

Aimée Stuart was a popular playwright between the wars, but she’s now virtually unheard of and her hit romantic comedy Jeannie hasn’t been performed in London since 1940. If you think this sounds like a prime candidate for the Finborough you’d be right, and Nicolette Kay brings it to Earl’s Court as this year’s light-hearted Christmas show. And light-hearted fun is definitely the order of the day, despite Jeannie (Mairi Hawthorn) starting the play as essentially an unpaid servant to her miserly father, cooking, cleaning and, her personal nemesis, washing the sheets. He’s so mean, in fact, that despite charging the neighbours to borrow a cup of milk, when he dies Jeannie discovers he’s left behind £200 in savings. Having spent her whole life forbidden from spending any money on herself, Jeannie decides to put her skills to work as a housekeeper, but not before blowing most of her inheritance on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Vienna.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Stage-to-screen review: I and You

Portrait (orientation) of the artist as a young woman.

One of the shows I had a ticket to but had to skip when I was ill last month was Hampstead Theatre's latest imported US hit, Lauren Gunderson's I and You. Sometimes unexpected second chances do come up though, and while the run's now ended the theatre has decided to stream a recording of it for free for 72 hours. Not quite a unique occurence, but the platform's an unusual one, as Gunderson's teen tragicomedy will have attracted a younger audience than usually frequents Swiss Cottage, and accordingly its new home is Instagram and its IGTV service for longer-format videos. What's immediately notable about this is that although of course it can be accessed on a PC, IGTV's optimised for phones and can only be shot in portrait. Which means if nothing else, Edward Hall's production is going to look different to any other stage-to-screen adaptation I've seen before.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Theatre review: Hadestown

It would be unfair to say it left me cold, but the latest American musical to be heralded as the next big thing certainly left me a bit nonplussed. Anaïs Mitchell’s 2010 concept album Hadestown has been steadily gaining a following as a musical in the last couple of years, and having been performed off-Broadway and in Canada it’s due to open on Broadway next year. This is the production, directed by the show’s co-creator Rachel Chavkin, which opens first in the Olivier for what is essentially a big-budget try-out. A meandering rewrite of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hadestown takes its musical style from New Orleans folk and jazz, and has accordingly transplanted Greek mythology to something like Depression-era Louisiana and a bar run by narrator Hermes (André De Shields.) The seasons are determined by the movement to and from the Underworld of its queen Persephone (Amber Gray,) but in recent years something’s gone wrong, leaving the world mostly in winter, with occasional bursts of summer but no autumn or spring.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Theatre review: Ralegh: The Treason Trial

Shakespeare's Globe dip their toe into verbatim theatre, although as befits the venue there's no recent politics or songs about serial killers - actor Oliver Chris has turned playwright and director by editing together the equivalent of court transcripts from 1603. The second of Michelle Terry's Ambitious Fiends is Sir Walter Ralegh (his preferred spelling, although like most of his contemporaries he doesn't really seem to have cared much either way,) a man who like most people I associate with Elizabeth I (and tobacco, and potatoes,) but whose later life I don't remember ever hearing much about. This gap in my knowledge might not be an accident, as once Elizabeth's reign was over Ralegh seems to have been a bit of an inconvenience to have around, and her successor's regime was keen to sweep him under the carpet as much as possible. As the title Ralegh: The Treason Trial suggests, this didn't happen in the subtlest of ways.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Theatre review: Macbeth (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Michelle Terry’s summer season at the Globe was the first time the venue didn’t have an official overall theme for the year, but for her first winter at the Swanamaker she has two: She’s split her season into two themed “festivals” starting with “Ambitious Fiends,” looking at power and corruption, with an optional supernatural element. That option is taken and really played with in the opening production: The candlelit playhouse has been open for a few years now so I find it a bit surprising that this is its first Macbeth, a play thought to have been written with this kind of theatre in mind. Indeed, given it’s notoriously an enthusiastic rimjob on James I, there’s a popular theory that the mirror that displays the line of kings in Act IV scene 1 would have once ended up reflecting the actual king in an intimate setting. Robert Hastie doesn’t have any royalty to play with, unless you count the theatrical royalty of Terry herself as Lady Macbeth, with real-life husband Paul Ready as her on-stage husband.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Theatre review: Pinter Four - Moonlight / Night School

For only the second time so far in his Pinter at the Pinter season, Jamie Lloyds hands the directing reigns to someone else for Pinter Four, with one big established name and one up-and-comer each taking one of the plays in this double bill. Just how generous a move this actually was is a bit of a different story, as apart from having one of the least ostentatiously famous casts in the whole season Pinter Four is made up of a couple of the more dubious entries in the writer's canon. This has been the installment I've least looked forward to in the whole season, because it opens with Moonlight which, when I saw it seven years ago at the Donmar Warehouse, was the single worst Pinter experience I've had, a 75-minute performance I remember as having lasted hours. Lyndsey Turner is the director who's been put in charge of this one, and on the plus side not only does she shave a few minutes off that running time but it actually feels just over an hour long this time as well.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Theatre review: White Teeth

A definite case of déjà vu walking into the Kiln, as Tom Piper’s perspective set for the musical White Teeth is reminiscent of Robert Jones’ street for the Young Vic’s Twelfth Night. Except instead of Notting Hill this is set right outside the theatre’s doors in Kilburn High Road; in fact I can think of no reason other than scheduling clashes for this not being the opening show of the renamed theatre’s season, given how much fuss has been made about the Kiln tying into the local community and its identity. Zadie Smith’s novel, adapted here by Stephen Sharkey with music by Paul Englishby, is something of a twisted love letter to Kilburn and its multicultural community with all its clashes and contradictions, through a convoluted intergenerational family epic. It’s predominantly the story of Irie (Ayesha Antoine) growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s alongside identical twins Millat (Assad Zaman) and Magid (Sid Sagar.)

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Theatre review: Bury the Dead

Back in 2014 theatres were falling over themselves to stage seasons built around 100 years from the start of the First World War, but the Finborough took a slightly different approach: Calling the strand THEGREATWAR100, they committed instead to revisiting the theme sporadically over the whole five years from the centenary of war breaking out, to the centenary of the Armistice. Which brings us very neatly to today and the concluding part of the series, and after a number of different approaches to the legacy of the trenches we get 1930s American Expressionism in Irwin Shaw’s Bury the Dead. That’s what the soldiers are trying to do at the start of the play, 48 hours after a failed advance left six of their friends dead, and they’re in a hurry to get on with it as the bodies are starting to smell. But while the men are indisputably dead they don’t act like it, rising from their graves and refusing to get back into them.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Theatre review: The Funeral Director

I try to catch the Papatango playwrighting award winner every year, and this year's offering doesn't lack for ambition in its subject matter: Iman Qureshi's The Funeral Director takes on the line where different marginalised groups' human rights clash. Ayesha (Aryana Ramkhalawon) and her husband Zeyd (Maanuv Thiara) run a funeral home specialising in Muslim funerals in "a small divided town in the Midlands." Married for five years they seem to be ticking along with their lives well enough but clearly aren't actually happy - Zeyd is just about comfortable enough to confront the fact that his wife is completely uninterested in sex, but she always dodges the conversation. An unexpected crisis comes to their lives in the form of Tom (Tom Morley,) who comes into the funeral parlour in a state of shock after his Muslim boyfriend dies of an overdose that may or may not have been suicide.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Theatre review: Pinter Three - Landscape /
Apart From That / Girls / That’s All / God’s District / Monologue / That’s Your Trouble / Special Offer / Trouble in the Works / Night / A Kind of Alaska

If there’s a running theme to Pinter Three, the hendecuple* bill that continues Jamie Lloyd’s collection of the playwright’s short writings to mark ten years since his death, it’s a kind of bittersweet romance. It’s something that becomes most apparent in Night, the penultimate piece in which Meera Syal and Tom Edden play a long-married couple whose love seems to remain genuine and strong, but whose memories of their relationship differ entirely: They each remember their first date completely differently, and may in fact be recalling encounters with different people - but does it even matter? The evening is bookended by the longest plays, and Night’s miscommunication somewhat mirrors the opener, Landscape, in which Beth (Tamsin Greig) and Duff (Keith Allen) have a conversation consisting of two entirely different threads – he recounting his day, she remembering stories from the early days of their relationship.

Monday, 5 November 2018

theatre review: ear for eye

et tu, debbie?

ideally, if coming back to the theatre after over a week sick, i’d choose something short and fairly fluffy to ease myself back in. things don’t always work out that way though, and with an acclaimed new debbie tucker green play in my diary fluffy was never going to be on the cards; you’d have thought short would at least be a given with the usually concise tucker green at the helm, but ear for eye plays out as a two-and-a-quarter hour epic with no interval. told in three distinct parts, each of which could have been a show in its own right but which feed into each other in subtle ways, the play is a look at the black experience in both america and the uk, one of its themes (and i wouldn’t want to pretend i can unpick every layer the writer’s built into her deceptively pared-down dialogue) being the way that even though we don’t have the epidemic of police shootings that plagues african-americans, this side of the pond doesn’t necessarily have the moral high ground, and black british people feel many of the same pressures.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Stage-to-screen review: Been So Long

If my theatregoing currently appears to be at something like normal human frequency that's because I've been stuck at home with bronchitis, but Netflix have filled in the gap a bit by releasing their film adaptation of Been So Long - Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill's first musical (maybe you shouldn't hold your breath for their second one to get filmed too soon) which I saw when it premiered at the Young Vic in 2009. From that original cast only Arinzé Kene has returned to play Raymond, released from prison and finding nobody to celebrate with him because while he's been away all his friends have got partners and families. Instead he ends up alone at a bar that's days away from closing, where he meets single mother Simone (Michaela Coel,) who's as attracted to him as he is to her, but has put up a lot of barriers to protect herself and her disabled daughter.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Theatre review: A Very Very Very Dark Matter

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. Parklife!

Martin McDonagh's Lieutenant of Inishmore was revived this summer, a reminder of his early work's wilfully controversial nature, love of blood and gore, and tendency to go to some pretty surreal places. Seventeen years on from that play's debut and with McDonagh now a big name in film as well as theatre, all of those remain present and correct, except the weirdness has been dialled up to new levels. Kicking off the Bridge Theatre's second year and playing from now until early January, there's a feel of the dark Christmas story to A Very Very Very Dark Matter, especially since it includes an appearance by the man most credited with creating the modern image of Christmas; it should go without saying that it's not one for the kids though, and even if you go in with the playwright's reputation preceding him the places he goes are likely to be very unexpected.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Theatre review: Measure for Measure
(Donmar Warehouse)

During Josie Rourke’s tenure the Donald and Margot Warehouse’s Shakespeare productions have tended to confound expectations – whether it be the expectation that Julius Caesar be played by a man or Coriolanus by someone with range – and for what is likely to be her last Shakespeare there she’s given it a new twist. Another of the original “Problem Plays,” Measure for Measure is a story full of hypocrisy, right from the start as the Duke of Vienna (Nicholas Burns) announces that he’ll be taking a sabbatical and leaving the city in the hands of his strict deputy. Vienna has draconian morality laws that the Duke’s let lapse during his rule; he wants to enforce them again, but doesn’t want to be seen as the bad guy so leaves it up to the deputy to bring terror not only to the city’s red light districts but even to anyone who has pre-marital sex – Claudio (Sule Rimi) has got his girlfriend pregnant and the strict word of the law demands his execution.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Theatre review: Stories

Nina Raine returns to the Dorfman, this time also directing her latest play Stories. It’s named after the idea that there are only seven basic stories in the world, and Anna (Claudie Blakley) seems to go through most of them – mainly the quest - in her attempts to have a baby. After a couple of years of trying with her partner Tom (Sam Troughton,) IVF is the step that makes it feel all too real for him and he breaks up with her. Approaching forty and finding herself single again, Anna becomes all too aware of her biological clock and decides to have the child on her own. She looks into finding a sperm donor online but doesn’t like the anonymity of it, and instead comes up with a plan to find the father herself – never quite giving up on the hope that Tom might change his mind, she nevertheless arranges to meet several men she knows (all also played by Troughton) who she thinks might be suitable candidates.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Theatre review: Troilus and Cressida (RSC / RST)

The thing about committing to doing the entire works of Shakespeare with no repetition is that at some point you have to knuckle down and do Troilus and Cressida. If you're the RSC you've also got the added pressure of hoping it doesn't get overshadowed by the memory of the last time you attempted it. Artistic Director Gregory Doran has taken the job on himself with a bombastic production that plays a few weeks in the middle of the "T" season, the high concept being that designer Niki Turner has taken inspiration from Mad Max (presumably the Tom Hardy rather than Mel Gibson version, as Agamemnon doesn't take time out to blame the Jews for the Trojan War) and composers Evelyn Glennie and Dave Price have created a cacophonous, percussion-heavy soundtrack that's meant to evoke the noise of a war dragging on indefinitely in the background. It's a clanging, crashing noise that Troilus (Gavin Fowler) is not so much haunted as irritated by after seven years of siege.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Theatre review: Wise Children

After famously making her mark on the Globe with an innovative use of its budget, Emma Rice was controversially given a large Arts Council grant to launch her new company Wise Children, named after the Angela Carter novel she adapts for its first production. Dora Chance (Gareth Snook) narrates the story of her life with twin sister Nora (Etta Murfitt,) and particularly their relationship with their father, also one of a pair of twins. Their mother died in childbirth and their father, famous Shakespearean actor Melchior Hazard (Ankur Bahl,) didn’t want anything to do with them but, not wanting them to surface many years later and cause him a scandal, arranged for them to be financially supported on the proviso they kept quiet. The story he’s always been happy to imply is that they’re actually his twin brother’s children, and Peregrine (Sam Archer) does end up behaving more like a father to the girls (albeit an abusive one, in a throwaway part of the story that’s one of my main issues with the show.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Theatre review: The Trench

Across the road from Southwark Playhouse there’s a full-sized billboard ad for the show that’s just opened in the Large proving that, if nothing else, Oliver Lansley’s The Trench has a larger-than-usual publicity budget for a fringe show. With detailed design, original songs (composed and performed by Alexander Wolfe, with the ensemble’s James Hastings also playing multiple instruments,) projections and extensive use of puppets, Les Enfants Terribles’ 2012 show, being seen in London for the first time in this revival, certainly wears its high production values on its sleeve; what else it’s really got to offer is a bit more doubtful. Lansley, who also co-directs (with James Seager) plays Bert, a First World War soldier whose former job as a miner makes him an obvious candidate to be a sapper – digging tunnels under no man’s land to bury mines near the enemy trenches. It’s a job with the inevitable added danger of getting caved in when a bomb goes off nearby, which is what happens to Bert and his new assistant Collins (Kadell Herida.)