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Sunday, 7 August 2022

Theatre review: The Tempest (Shakespeare's Globe)

The Tempest is often staged as an allegory for Britain's colonial past, but the latest London production goes for the metaphor of a much more up-to-date British cultural colonisation. For the final Shakespeare production of the summer season, and the second from the current resident Globe Ensemble, Sean Holmes and Diane Page take us to a nameless island that more closely resembles a Spanish resort full of English ex-pats, than it does a remote and forbidding land. Like a more fortunate King Lear, Prospero (Ferdy Roberts) enjoyed the privileges of being Duke of Milan, while openly having no intention of doing any of the associated work or pay attention to politics. It made him very easy to displace in a coup, and he was banished with his daughter Miranda (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) to this remote island. But thanks to some magical knowledge, he quickly managed to become ruler of the place and command its magical creatures.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Theatre review: Yeast Nation (the triumph of life)

There must be something about Southwark Playhouse that inspires Benji Sperring towards the colour green: The director's last show in the Large was The Toxic Avenger, and now from a green lead we move on to an entirely green cast. Urinetown creators Mark Hollman (music & lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book & lyrics) have come up with an even more surreal theme for a musical than public toilets, by going back to the year 3,000,458,000 BCE and the first single-cell yeast organisms that could be considered life on Earth. Yeast Nation (the triumph of life) has recently been selling itself as "London's most controversial musical," which isn't quite accurate as the term has to be "divisive" - many of the official reviews seem to have completely panned it, and based on the turnout even on a Friday night that seems to have affected ticket sales. But, appropriately enough, the yeast-based substance it's most turned out to resemble is Marmite, because among those who made the trip many have loved it.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Theatre review: Much Ado About Nothing
(National Theatre)

The year's third major Much Ado About Nothing is the starriest, courtesy of John Heffernan and Future Dame Katherine Parkinson as Benedick and Beatrice at the Lyttelton. The National's go-to Shakespeare director Simon Godwin was best-known for directing new work when the RSC hired him to give a fresh eye to The Two Gentlemen of Verona nearly a decade ago, and while that was the start of a major change of direction for his career, he's still bringing that outsider's attitude to one of the most beloved comedies of all. Dialogue has been cut, moved, assigned to different characters, and while it's all Shakespeare's work it doesn't all necessarily originate in this play (there's even the best part of a sonnet bulking up Hero's role.) At heart the play - and its most famous couple - remain the same, but the irreverent treatment of the text yields results in making many of the plotlines and characters less problematic.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Stage-to-screen review: Henry VI Part 1
Open Rehearsal Project (RSC)

The Phantom Menace of Shakespeare's Plantagenet history cycle, Henry VI Part 1 is the unloved prequel that seems to exist mainly to cause a headache for companies like the RSC and Globe: There's an expectation that they'll make their way through the entire canon every decade or so, but a couple of the plays feel like a hell of a lot of effort and expense for a show nobody will actually want to come and see. As the least popular part of an extended sequence of plays Henry VI Part 1 suffers the most from this - I've only seen it live in its own right once - and theatres tend to go for some variation of not actually staging it and saying they did. Usually this involves merging it into the other two Henry VI plays, like the Swanamaker's last attempt did particularly ruthlessly, but the RSC chose instead to make a virtue out of necessity and knock this one out as a lockdown project online: Gregory Doran and Owen Horsley directed a professional cast in rehearsals last summer, which were live-streamed for anyone interested in seeing the company's rehearsal process.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Theatre review: 101 Dalmatians

Both the shows I saw this week shared a common theme of me not having any intention whatsoever of booking for them, until the casting made them a lot harder to skip. Chasing Hares did prove to be worth catching, but I'm afraid I can't say the same for 101 Dalmatians: The big attraction here was Kate Fleetwood landing the iconic role of Cruella de Vil; but if you essentially hobble her from the start with woeful dialogue and a half-hearted reimagining, there's not much she can do to salvage the evening. Timothy Sheader's production for the Open Air Theatre goes back to the original Dodie Smith book for inspiration, while Douglas Hodge (music and lyrics) and Johnny McKnight's (book) musical is adapted from an earlier stage version by Zinnie Harris. Or to put it another way, this is nothing to do with the DisneyTM versions, that shit's way too expensive to license.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Theatre review: Chasing Hares

The Cut is a street absolutely packed with restaurants, and on a much more comfortable summer night after a heatwave that means it's bustling when the Young Vic lets out for an interval at 8:40pm. Not just with people eating out - tonight there was a positive Tour de France of Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat delivery riders trying not to crash into each other. It's like a free bit of scene-setting atmosphere for Sonali Bhattacharyya's Chasing Hares, whose framing device sees present-day London food delivery rider Amba (Saroja-Lily Ratnavel) frustrated by the app she works for, which requires her to stay on standby, unpaid, in the hope that an order will come in; as well as needing the money herself, she wants to chip in to help a colleague who's had his bike stolen. This sense of community among riders who in theory should be competing for orders is one her father would like to see harnessed to get them better pay and conditions.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Theatre review: The Seagull

Jamie Lloyd's latest West End season was meant to run at the Playhouse, where its first show, Cyrano de Bergerac, played in early 2020. The follow-up production of Chekhov's The Seagull was of course a casualty of Covid, and now that it's returned its original home has been taken over by the Kit Kat Club. So instead Lloyd has regrouped at the Pinter, home of his previous season, for a production that continues to go for the same stripped-back aesthetic, but with a very different result than Cyrano's rap battle fireworks. Lloyd uses Anya Reiss' 2012 version of the play, which means the setting is the Isle of Man in the present day, where frustrated young writer Konstantin (Daniel Monks) lives at his uncle Sorin's (Robert Glenister) house by a lake. If their lives are usually quiet and uneventful that's not what we see, because all four of the play's acts take place during visits from Sorin's sister, Konstantin's mother.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Theatre review: Jack Absolute Flies Again

For many of us One Man, Two Guvnors is now remembered as the show that stopped us from ever trusting a theatrical ad-lib again, but there's no denying what a huge international hit Richard Bean's rewrite of Carlo Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters was. So it's not surprising if the National Theatre have tried to recreate the alchemy as Bean, now with one of the original Masters, Oliver Chris, on board as co-writer, takes another 18th century comedy and transposes it to more recent history. This time the source material is perhaps the most enduring Restoration Comedy, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, and while it remains to be seen if its financial success can match its predecessor, Jack Absolute Flies Again is certainly a hit in terms of providing laughs when they're most needed. From a flippant world of fops and wigs the scene moves to men and women in a higher-stakes setting, during the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940.

Friday, 15 July 2022

Theatre review: Julius Caesar
(Shakespeare's Globe & Tour)

Straight after a play about a tyrant going unnoticed until it's too late and he's grabbed all the power, I'm off to Shakespeare's play about a potential tyrant who's disposed of before he can do any damage; although whether the threat was ever real is the big question in Julius Caesar. It's this year's Tiny Tour show from the Globe, with eight actors taking on all the roles (and some extra economising in that there's no additional onstage musicians this year.) Diane Page directs Globe veteran Dickon Tyrrell in the plum part that gives an actor the title role, a dramatic death scene, and plenty of time to nap backstage. Caesar has just defeated Rome's previous hero-turned-villain, Pompey, in battle at the start of the play, and the city has shown its gratitude by offering him the crown. He's grudgingly accepted, but was his initial refusal the gentleman protesting too much? Cassius (Charlotte Bate) thinks so.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Theatre review: Patriots

I wonder what first attracted noted Arsenal fan Rupert Goold to a play that sticks it to Roman Abramovich? Or perhaps, after The 47th, he wanted to keep to a theme of uncannily accurate portrayals of recent or current world despots - this time Will Keen's disturbingly accurate Vladimir Putin. Both Abramovich and Putin are major characters in the director's latest project at the Almeida, but the central figure in Peter Morgan's Patriots is the man who first brought the two together, arguably the OG Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky (Tom Hollander.) A child prodigy with ambitions of winning the Nobel Prize for Mathematics*, in the late 1980s he took an abrupt turn, spotting the pitfalls and possibilities of Perestroika and turning his maths skills to economics. Soon he's one of the richest men in Russia, and with his wealth comes power.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Theatre review: A Doll's House, Part 2

Previously, in A Doll's House...

In an unpredictable year for theatregoing the Donald and Margot Warehouse has proven the most disaster-prone for me personally: We're now up to two shows I had to reschedule because the company had Covid; one I had to miss entirely because I had Covid; and one that had Kit Harington in it. Now, a couple of weeks after I'd initially planned to, I'm getting to see a show that follows a major pre-lockdown trend of plays that rewrote, reinvented or deconstructed Ibsen's proto-feminist classic A Doll's House, a play that famously caused an international scandal when its heroine, Nora, walked out of the door at the end. The title of Lucas Hnath's take on the story, A Doll's House, Part 2, gives away that his approach is to write a sequel: 15 years after she dealt with an unhappy marriage by walking out on her husband and children, Nora Helmer is back.

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Theatre review: Richard III (RSC / RST)

I don't think it's a question of if, or even when someone does an overtly Boris Johnson-themed production of Richard III, it's surely only a matter of who gets there first: In Shakespeare's version of history, Richard sees ultimate power as his birthright; sows chaos then sells himself as the only person who can fix it; acquires and discards wives for political expediency; makes allies of dodgy yes-men; goes so far even they desert him and he replaces them with even dodgier ones; and of course immediately finds himself dangerously out of his depth when he eventually gets the top job. It's a bit #TooSoon for that very specific production of course, so in the meantime we get the culmination of the RSC's Wars of the Roses trilogy. Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis stays on as do many of the central cast, but outgoing Artistic Director Gregory Doran has returned from compassionate leave to take over directing duties from Owen Horsley.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Theatre review: The Southbury Child

Continuing an unprecedented run of two whole not-terrible original plays at the Bridge Theatre, Stephen Beresford's The Southbury Child comes to London after premiering in Chichester. Nicholas Hytner directs regular collaborator Alex Jennings for the first time at his own venue, as vicar David Highland, who's served the parish of a small Devon town for so many years his whole family call it home. At one point the town was a fishing and industrial community, but is now starkly divided on economic lines - the scenic riverside houses are second homes for the wealthy, while in the more derelict parts of town the locals scrape by at call centres, as cleaners or on benefits. David holds a position somewhere between the two classes, who do have one thing in common: Most of them never go anywhere near his church except for christenings, weddings and funerals.

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Theatre review: The Lesson

For a lauded and influential playwright, Eugène Ionesco is so rarely performed in the UK that me catching a second production in 2022 means it must be a bit of a big year for him in London. In Southwark Playhouse's Little space, Icarus Theatre brings The Lesson to life with the creative use of projections that turn captions for the hearing-impaired into the stuff of nightmares. The Pupil (Hazel Caulfield) arrives, excited, at the apartment of the famed Professor (Jerome Ngonadi,) who she hopes will help her prepare for a Doctorate (preferably all the Doctorates.) She already knows three of the four seasons so this should just be a formality. The Professor starts her on arithmetic before moving on to linguistics, despite the warnings of his stern housekeeper Marie (Julie Stark) that this never goes well for him.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Theatre review: King Lear (Shakespeare's Globe)

Female King Lears have become a bit more common in recent years, but Kathryn Hunter's 1997 performance of the role is generally referred to as the first-ever professional production with a woman in the lead. Presumably it was also remarkable for her age, as she would have been younger then than I am now, and much as I grumble about getting on a bit I'm not quite at the point of identifying with the dementia-stricken monarch just yet. This was long before I'd ever even heard of Hunter, now one of my favourite actors, so I was excited to have a chance to finally see her in the role, 25 years closer to the character's supposed age, at Shakespeare's Globe. But it's turned out to be a troubled production: Hunter was meant to reunite onstage for the second time this year with her husband Marcello Magni, but he had to drop out so we get a much younger Kent, with an appealing amount of swagger, in Gabriel Akuwudike.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Theatre review: Invisible

They say write what you know, so actor/writers performing their own work tend to deal with their own experiences in the job - or, as often as not, their difficulty in finding one, especially if they belong to a minority that tends to get typecast. In Nikhil Parmar's Invisible, we're in an alternate present where peace has unilaterally broken out in the Middle East, so South Asian actors don't even have the option of bad guy terrorist roles any more, and are stuck fighting it out for the doctors and shopkeepers. Parmar plays Zayan, a classically trained actor who's not had a role for a while, and has largely given up even auditioning because of his fear of rejection. He scrapes a living with catering jobs and occasionally weed-dealing for his cousins (when he doesn't get mugged for the drugs by children,) and the effect it's had on his state of mind is threatening his personal life: His ex-girlfriend is dating a more successful actor, and is wondering whether Zayan is stable enough to look after their young daughter, even for the odd weekend.

Monday, 27 June 2022

Theatre review: The Fellowship

Roy Williams, whose Death of England trilogy inadvertently ended up bookending the Covid lockdowns, now turns his hand to a traditional intergenerational family drama at he continues to explore the tensions and contradictions of the children of the Windrush generation. The Fellowship, set in 2019, makes explicit reference to that generation, in the unseen 91-year-old mother of Dawn (Cherrelle Skeete.) She moved into her younger daughter's house when her health started to fail terminally - it's implied if never explicitly stated that her deterioration really began with the Home Office scandal that she got caught up in. Dawn's feelings about a mother who was physically and emotionally abusive are complicated at best, but she's still taken on most of her care compared to older sister Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn,) a barrister and one of a tiny minority of black QCs, whose career has always taken precedence.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Theatre review: Mad House

A few years ago Bill Pullman gave a memorable performance at the Old Vic in All My Sons, and now he returns to the West End to play a more grotesque, but no less scene-stealing character. And he's clearly not a star name who wants all the limelight for himself: After sharing top billing with Sally Field last time, he now shares it with David Harbour at a time when he must have known the latest season of Stranger Things would give him most of the attention. This time Pullman plays Daniel, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family in a small Pennsylvania town, whose wife died of cancer a year earlier, and who's now slowly dying of multiple organ failure himself. He doesn't want to die in a hospice so, with the help of palliative care nurse Lillian (Akiya Henry,) his primary caregiver is eldest son Michael (Harbour.) He's the only one of Daniel's children willing to do it, and it may just be because he needs somewhere to live after spending a year in a mental institution.

Monday, 20 June 2022

Theatre review: That Is Not Who I Am

Theatres are going to have to keep trying to make up their Covid losses for some years to come, so you can forgive them if they try the odd gimmick to get bums on seats. Or at least you'd think you could, but the Royal Court's latest show has come with an elaborate framing device that extends way beyond the stage and begins with the publicity; something that could be described as underhand but in reality feels more like the theatre overtly trying to create an air of mystery, so why it seems to have made some critics quite so angry is a bit beyond me. In any case the setup is that the venue had discovered a first-time writer, a man in late middle age called Dave Davidson, who'd dabbled in playwrighting before but not had anything produced until That Is Not Who I Am. This pretence barely seemed to last a couple of days before it was commonly known Davidson was the pseudonym of an established author. Now that it's opened the information is easy to find but just in case anyone's still trying to go in blind, I'll keep the spoilers for after this text break.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Theatre review: The False Servant

Paul Miller is coming up to his final season as Artistic Director of the Orange Tree, a theatre he notoriously took over on the day it lost all its funding. He turned its fortunes around with an eclectic menu of surprisingly ambitious new work alternating with reliable classics, predominantly from Rattigan and Shaw, and it'll be interesting to see how far his successor Tom Littler will want to tinker with a successful formula. One thing I won't miss if they go in the new regime are Miller's occasional ventures to 18th century France for the comedies of Pierre Marivaux, which between The Lottery of Love and the latest offering, The False Servant, haven't exactly got my pulse racing. A wealthy young woman (Lizzy Watts) is contemplating a potential suitor, but wants to be sure of his character. Disguising herself as a man and calling herself The Chevalier, she befriends Lelio (Julian Moore-Cook) and immediately finds out why she should avoid the match at all costs.