Thursday, 6 May 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Lights Up - Sadie

It's back to the BBC's virtual theatre festival for what must be one of the most-anticipated entries: David Ireland is the most recent playwright to contribute to the Royal Court's dubious history of plays where babies meet a violent end, so he comes with a certain amount of notoriety. So far we've had plays that had already been seen by live audiences in one form or another; Sadie is one rescued from obscurity by the Lights Up season, as it had been commissioned by Cyprus Avenue's star Stephen Rea for his own company, only to be cancelled by lockdown. The BBC and Lyric Theatre Belfast (where Conleth Hill's production was filmed) stepped in to ensure the show (presumably slightly rewritten as it includes a few references to Covid-19 and lockdown) could be seen after all. A kind of memory play, it begins with middle-aged office cleaner Sadie (Abigail McGibbon) conjuring up her long-dead uncle Red (Patrick Jenkins,) a Catholic communist who'd married into her Protestant Northern Irish family but largely stayed out of their political conflicts.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Eurobeat - The Pride of Europe

I didn't see the original West End production of Eurovision spoof Eurobeat; if I recall correctly, I had tickets to see it a couple of months into its run at the Novello, but it closed before then. Maybe a streamed version, available in the weeks leading up to the real song contest returning, will prove a better home for it: Craig Christie's (book, music and lyrics) Eurobeat - The Pride of Europe is a new version of the musical, with completely different songs to its 2008 premiere, some of them reflecting recent Eurovision trends more obviously than others. In a way this is only half a review: The original show had an audience text vote resulting in a different winner every night; stream.theatre's version has an online vote carrying on throughout its run, and will invite viewers of this first part to watch a special results show once the results have been tabulated and independently verified by the accountants of Liechtenstein.

Friday, 30 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Tarantula

If the last year has seen culture put on pause nobody remembered to tell Philip Ridley - Tarantula is his seventeenth premiere since March 2020. Granted, some of those barely came in at two minutes, but he's given Georgie Henley the monologue equivalent of a marathon, an epic that comes closer to two hours. You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a teenage rom-com from the opening, if you didn't know who'd written it, and if narrator Toni didn't abruptly freeze mid-sentence whenever she says her boyfriend Michael's name (and I'm not sure if director Wiebke Green entirely thought out how this would come across on a live stream, or maybe making the audience think the feed had frozen was intentional.) After a meet-cute at a school charity event, the self-conscious and scholarly teenager goes on her first-ever date with a charming boy. Until she looks the wrong way at a man with a spider tattoo and the rom-com abruptly turns into horror.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Lights Up - Pale Sister

The second episode in the BBC's virtual theatre festival Lights Up appears to be a TV original - no co-producing theatre is credited and I can't find any reference to Trevor Nunn's production having been seen on stage before, although Lisa Dwan has played this role before - so it's ironic that it feels a particularly uncomfortable stage-to-screen transition. The role in question is Ismene, Antigone's timid sister from Sophocles' play, finally given a voice in Colm Tóibín's Pale Sister. An opening caption that hastily takes us through the basics of Antigone's story suggests this won't be ideal for those completely unfamiliar with the original, but Ismene does (after a lot of preamble) get to witnessing the war between her two brothers that leaves both dead but only one buried: Her uncle, King Creon, decrees that the body of Polyneices, who fought against him, should be left out for the vultures and jackals. Antigone defies him and the entire family crumbles under Creon's petty rage.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Lights Up - Adam

I'm one dose of vaccine down and restrictions are due to ease again, so all being well (something I'm still very much treating as an "if" rather than a "when," given last year's false starts,) I'm just over a month away from seeing theatre in person again. Until then, the BBC has provided another stage-to-screen season, Lights Up, this time highlighting new writing. I haven't looked at the full season in detail yet but I think it's a combination of completely new works and screen adaptations of recent stage shows - like the opener, Frances Poet's Adam, from the National Theatre of Scotland. Poet's play is based on the true story of Adam Kashmiry, an Egyptian trans man who sought asylum in Glasgow, and the real Adam plays himself in Cora Bissett and Louise Lockwood's production. In part narrated to a Mental Health Nurse (Stephen McCole) who's friendly but very limited in the practical help he can give, the focus is split between the life he needed to leave, and the red tape-filled contradictions of trying to prove his case for asylum.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Cruise

Actors writing monologues for themselves to show off both their writing and acting skills is nothing new, and no doubt many more of them will be on their way soon, written in lockdown. Jack Holden has got in ahead of the pack by using one of the streaming platforms, stream.theatre, for the premiere of his play Cruise, but this particular "stage-to-screen" presentation is actually more like "screen-to-stage," as before the filmed version had been seen online a live production at the Duchess was announced. I'd already booked to watch online before I knew there was the option of seeing it live, but having now watched it I can see why producers might think it was worth a punt as one of the shows to reopen the West End with: Not only is it in the top flight of actor-written monologues, but after the huge TV success of It's A Sin this taps into a similar vein; not just in the subject matter of London's 1980s gay society being ravaged by AIDS, but also in balancing grief for the lives lost with a celebration of the hedonism that was its flipside.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: OUTSIDE

Well, we can add another authentic theatre experience to the streaming equivalent: Those times a show has to be interrupted due to a technical hitch (and you're not sure how long it'll take to fix, should you go to the loo in case the show overruns a lot, or will you be out of your seat when it starts again?) Following last month's INSIDE, the Orange Tree live stream returns with a second trio of new short plays - this time all written by people who've worked at the venue before, if not necessarily as a writer. Unsurprisingly the theme this time is OUTSIDE, and Sonali Bhattacharyya's Two Billion Beats interprets this as a school playground, where star pupil Asha (Zainab Hasan) is uncharacteristically having to clean up graffiti as detention, while her little sister Bettina (Ashna Rabheru) loiters, not wanting to get on the bus alone and get bullied. Unfortunately I can't critique Two Billion Beats as Hasan's microphone failed just as we were getting to the crux of the play, so I didn't hear most of her dialogue from that point on; but the start did seem promising, with Asha comparing her school essay-writing technique to clickbait that gets her teacher hooked.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: The Beast Will Rise -
Cactus / Rosewater

The last time I caught up with The Beast Will Rise, the fourteenth play in the series, Cactus, had had its online premiere postponed, taking the opportunity of one of last year's brief returns of live performance to debut in front of an audience instead. I hadn't looked at Tramp's YouTube page for a while, but with Philip Ridley's first new work of 2021 coming soon I had a look, and it seems that Cactus had quietly arrived online a few months ago, along with a new fifteenth instalment. Ridley's monologue cycle for Zoom, directed by Wiebke Green, was something of an underrated epic of the first lockdown - you can read my reviews of the first, second and third sets of monologues I watched, and I think this fourth one will be the last... but with a playwright as prolific as Ridley you never know when something else might pop up.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Romeo & Juliet
(National Theatre / Sky Arts)

Another very literal interpretation of the phrase "stage to screen" saw the Lyttelton Theatre's stage and wings turned temporarily into a film studio late last year. Among the many Romeo & Juliets cancelled or postponed in 2020 (what's the collective noun? Soutra Gilmour's design here certainly makes a case for "a vial" of Romeo & Juliets,) was Simon Godwin's at the National. Instead of getting put on the back burner or cancelled entirely the NT came up with a third option, teaming up with Sky Arts in the UK and PBS in the US to come up with a TV movie special. What this loses in nearly half the running time it gains in star power - Pirate Jessie Buckley as Juliet, Josh O'Connor as Romeo and Fisayo Akinade as Mercutio had already been announced before the lockdown scuppered the stage production, but I don't know that we'd have necessarily got Lucian Msamati as Friar Laurence, Tamsin Greig as Lady Capulet, Deborah Findlay as the Nurse and certainly not Adrian Lester in essentially a cameo role as the Prince, in a full live run.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Stage-to-screen review: BKLYN

An original offering from the stream.theatre service, Dean Johnson's production of BKLYN unearths a 2004 musical by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson (book, music and lyrics) I don't think I'd ever heard of before; having now watched it, its obscurity is no suprise. That particular American mix of maudlin and saccharine I have no truck with, BKLYN is like Rent (a show whose success it's blatantly trying to capitalise on) without the decent songs or any attempt at coherence. A storytelling musical told by a group of homeless people under the Brooklyn Bridge, the Street Singer (Newtion Matthews) narrates the story of Brooklyn (Emma Kingston,) a young French girl whose mother (Sejal Keshwala) commits suicide when her American father never returns from the Vietnam War. Brooklyn returns to the city she was named after to become an overnight singing superstar, but this is just a coincidental sideline to finding her lost father Taylor (Jamie Muscato.)

Friday, 26 March 2021

Stage-to-screen review: INSIDE

Necessity has made for a lot of different interpretations of what "online theatre" consists of over the last year, ranging from the lo-tech to shows barely distinguishable from TV or film. For their first tentative return to new programming the Orange Tree go for the most literal version, which for my money is the closest thing to the frisson of the real theatre experience: A show presented on their stage, with the actors performing live, and the audience have to be in their seats on time - albeit their seats in front of the computer or TV. After Hymn this is only my second live-streamed show of 2021, and perhaps it had an extra touch of nostalgia for me as the Orange Tree is where I saw my last in-person show before the first lockdown. Their streaming commision is six short plays from a mix of writers who've worked there before and others who haven't; presented in two triple-bills, they're reactions to the last year's events under the rough themes of Inside/Outside. Directed by Anna Himali Howard, the INSIDE collection is first.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Stage-to-screen review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is a story that's endlessly popular for stage adaptation, although in my experience it always seems to struggle there - perhaps that's why it's the one story Wilde chose to tell as a novel rather than a play or poem. It now surfaces again as the latest pandemic-era streaming production, from co-producers the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre, Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd - filmed largely at the Barn, adapted by the Lawrence Batley's Artistic Director Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Clwyd's AD Tamara Harvey, a number of other partner theatres also benefit from one of the more star-studded of the recent online shows. Keeping Wilde's core characters intact but going for a much looser adaptation of the actual story, Filloux-Bennett turns it into a parable about social media that's firmly rooted in last year's events.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Stage-to-screen review: One Night In Miami...

In recent months both of the original big streaming services have offered, on the more "prestige" end of their output (coincidentally today it was announced both films had received multiple Oscar nominations,) film adaptations of stage plays that imagine the behind-closed-doors life of iconic 20th century black figures. A few weeks ago I watched Netflix's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which I found good but lacking some of the dimensions of the original; today I tackled Amazon Prime's offering, One Night In Miami... which if anything has the opposite effect of building up the play's world. Part of that is simply down to time: Ma Rainey cut at least an hour off the original play's running time, but when I saw Kemp Powers' play at the Donmar Warehouse in 2016 it ran at a tight 90 minutes, meaning this nearly two-hour film is actually longer than the original. Powers himself adapts the screenplay for Regina King's film, which takes place in 1964, hours after a boxer still known as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) first becomes heavyweight champion of the world.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Radio review: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Two Gentlemen of Verona consist of one of Shakespeare's douchiest romantic leads in Proteus (Blake Ritson,) and one of the thickest in Valentine (Nikesh Patel,) who leaves Verona to seek his fortune in Milan, falling in love once there with the Duke's daughter Silvia (Kate Phillips.) Proteus eventually follows him there and falls for her himself; despite having sworn love to Julia (Lyndsey Marshal) back at home, and despite Valentine supposedly being his best friend, he immediately starts plotting to sabotage the relationship and steal Silvia for himself. Originally produced for BBC Radio 3 in 2019 and now available on BBC Sounds' Shakespeare Sessions, this version adapted by Sara Davies and directed by Celia de Wolff is a companion to the production of The Two Noble Kinsmen I listened to a few weeks ago, using the same cast and production team.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Rehearsed reading review: Girl on an Altar

Alongside the more finished works that have been appearing online during the last year of lockdown, it's perhaps surprising that more rehearsed readings haven't also been on the menu - perhaps theatres have been too busy trying to ensure they can eventually reopen their doors, to spend much time trying out the shows they hope to put on when they do. But if the latest in a long line of promises actually turns out true there might be light at the end of the tunnel, and Marina Carr’s new play Girl on an Altar is one Indhu Rubasingham hopes to add to a future Kiln season. So she and Susie McKenna direct a one-off reading that was live-streamed tonight from the Kiln stage, and in a companion piece to her Hecuba, Carr returns to the aftereffects of the Trojan War to look at the Greek side of the story. The play focuses on the first major murder of the Oresteia, but like Robert Icke she first looks back ten years to the inciting event: The sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Intended as Southwark Playhouse's first big show of 2021, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice went the way of... everything else in recent months, although Richard Hough (book and lyrics) and Ben Morales Frost's (music and orchestrations) musical was among the luckier ones, in that the production got to finish rehearsals and actually perform in The Large. To no live audience, of course, but for a recording that's streaming "as-live" on the stream.theatre platform for the next few weeks. It's based on the Goethe poem that is of course best-known for its adaptation in DisneyTM's Fantasia©, and little suggestions of Paul Dukas' music do find their way into Morales Frost's compositions. But this is essentially a new treatment of the material, starting with a new story that expands on Goethe's simple fable about not trying to run before you can walk.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Hymn

Another play that had hoped to be part of the first wave of theatres reopening has instead had to be reimagined for live streaming at home: Lolita Chakrabarti's new play sees her once again, nine years after the international success of Red Velvet, team up with her husband Adrian Lester; in Hymn he plays another charismatic character, although perhaps not this time with quite the same depth to back it up. We meet Lester's Gil giving the eulogy at his father's funeral, a family man who built up a small business empire of dry cleaners and stationers. Whether the father Gil describes was quite the open book he thought is put into question immediately after the service though, with the revelation that Benny (Danny Sapani,) only six days younger than Gil, may be his half-brother: It was only when she saw the death notice in the paper that Benny's mother admitted the identity of the married man who got her pregnant then abandoned her.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Good Grief

An intimate piece of theatre, created specially for streaming at home: Nearly a year into lockdown, can a one-act two-hander feel too different from a one-off TV drama? Natalie Abrahami has some ideas on how to make this feel, if not quite like theatre, like a hybrid of the two mediums as she directs Lorien Haynes' tragicomedy Good Grief for the screen. Adam (Nikesh Patel) has lost his partner Liv after eight years of cancer. Their friend Cat (Sian Clifford) is the last one left at his house after the wake, and one of the people who it seems best understands, if not entirely approves of, his eccentric ways of grieving. These include compartmentalising Liv's belongings around a house that's now far too big for just him in rooms like "the sad room" and "the boring room," and a lot of inappropriate humour, like opening the eulogy by mentioning Liv's extraordinary promiscuity before they got together.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare's Globe / Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank)

I mentioned recently that after 2020's overload of Romeo and Juliets failed to materialise for obvious reasons, it was due to turn up in 2021 in largely digital form. But before a rather odd-looking green screen affair and the National's repurposing of the Lyttelton into a TV studio turn up, there's a version already available on YouTube, and free to view (as ever, donations are encouraged,) until the end of next month. Last year I had my first experience of the Globe's Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank strand of shows for schools with the 2020 production of Macbeth, and now for their 2019 offering, and a 90-minute edit can't be a bad call for a play I tend to lose my patience with, can it? Certainly playing the story at speed can only accentuate the way Romeo (Nathan Welsh) and Juliet (Charlotte Beaumont) decide they're in love with each other having barely met.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Among the many instances of time seeming to move unpredictably lately is the realisation that the National's production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was exactly five years ago; the fictional story of the real-life "Mother of the Blues" who weaponised diva behaviour feels much more recent to me than that. The 1920s instalment of August Wilson's Century Cycle (better known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, except for the fact that this one play isn't set there) has been one of the more notable stage adaptations for the screen in recent months, unfortunately notable in large part for being Chadwick Boseman's final onscreen role. He plays Levee, horn player for the superstar singer, and the most cocky, vocal and jumpy member of the four-strong band waiting in a rehearsal room for her to arrive and begin recording an EP of some of her most famous songs. This includes the one which gives the play its title, and for which Levee has prepared a new arrangement.