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.)

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Theatre review: The Wider Earth

You never know where the next pop-up theatre is going to materialise (which I guess is why they're called pop-ups,) and there's particularly majestic surroundings for the transfer of David Morton's Australian and US hit The Wider Earth. In fact the excuse to pay a visit to the Natural History Museum what must be decades since I last went there was one of the attractions of the play, which has set up shop in the Jerwood Gallery, a space that normally houses temporary exhibitions and now has a custom-built theatre in it. The gallery is right next to the museum's Darwin Centre, so it couldn't be better-placed to house the story of the young Charles Darwin (Bradley Foster) on his two-year journey (that actually ended up lasting five years) circumnavigating the globe on the Beagle.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Theatre review: Company

Marianne Elliott’s production of Company has been a long time coming – tickets have been on sale for a year and a lot of excitement has been built up over Elliott’s twist to the famous 1970 musical: Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s story of the one singleton in a friendship group full of couples has gender-flipped the lead, with a number of other characters either following suit, or having their roles mixed around a bit to suit the new premise. Bobbie (Rosalie Craig) is turning 35, and her friends are waiting at her apartment to throw a surprise birthday party; when she arrives they will inevitably keep bringing the subject round to her single status and asking when she’s going to get married. The show’s original working title was Threes, because that’s what Bobbie keeps finding herself in as her married friends invite her to be a third wheel and see how great coupled life is – something that’s not as convincing as they think it is.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Theatre review: Twelfth Night (Young Vic)

The Young Vic gets its first new artistic director in nearly twenty years as Kwame Kwei-Armah debuts in carnival fashion with a show first seen in New York two years ago: A musical adaptation of Twelfth Night. Kwei-Armah heavily edits Shakespeare’s text, something made easier by the inclusion of Shaina Taub’s original songs, whose modern-language lyrics help summarise and move on the story so that the whole thing comes in at well under two hours. Originally set in New Orleans, Kwei-Armah and Oskar Eustis’ production has been relocated to Notting Hill for its UK premiere, with Robert Jones’ thrust stage creating a long road where Viola (Gabrielle Brooks) is washed up after a storm, right into a funeral – but a lively one that turns into a street party, only the deceased’s sister Olivia (Natalie Dew) keeping up the mourning for long. It’s too long for Duke Orsino (Rupert Young,) who’s determined to woo her despite her obvious lack of interest.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Theatre review: The Sweet Science of Bruising

I don't think we can really call it a 2018 meme when it's so obviously a timely and appropriate response to a conversation going on everywhere, and particularly in the arts, but there's certainly been an explosion this year of shows by and about women: Particularly ones like Emilia, Sylvia and, just ending its run in the space next door to this one, Wasted, that illuminate the present through the women who've fought against society's expectations in the past. That fight is literal in Joy Wilkinson's The Sweet Science of Bruising: Her subject is Victorian women's boxing, her heroines four women from very different backgrounds who all find themselves fighting for a newly-invented world championship title when London boxing promoter Professor Charlie Sharp (Bruce Alexander) travels to Manchester in search of new talent, and discovers that promising fighter Paul Stokes (James Baxter) has a girlfriend, Polly (Fiona Skinner,) who's every bit as good if not more so.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Theatre review: The Height of the Storm

After premiering in Bath and Richmond, The Height of the Storm is the latest Florian Zeller play to make it to the West End, with director Jonathan Kent taking a risk on putting two notoriously difficult actors on stage together. The vague description in the publicity suggests another rather dark, sad journey into confusion and failing mental health, and while I’m generally a fan of cheerier things, where this writer is concerned I’d rather see him return to intimate tragedies than the so-so farces of his lighter side. Anne (Amanda Drew) and Elise (Anna Madeley) have gone to their parents’ home in the French countryside for the weekend; it soon becomes apparent that one of their parents has recently died, but Zeller deals in confusion and it’s hard to figure out which one, as both André (Jonathan Pryce) and Madeleine (Eileen Atkins) appear on stage regularly.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Theatre review: James Graham's Sketching

Apparently kicked off by his feeling guilty about having three plays in West End theatres in the last year while other writers struggle to get work staged, James Graham's Sketching sees him take that high profile and use it to put a few emerging playwrights in the spotlight. His idea for doing this was an update of Charles Dickens' early hit Sketches by Boz, a collection of character pieces set around Victorian London, with the gimmick that this would be the first "crowdsourced" play, accepting submissions of short plays that would be woven into the overall story. Eight playwrights' submissions were eventually accepted, and Thomas Hescott directs Samuel James, Penny Layden, Nav Sidhu, Sean Michael Verey and Sophie Wu in around fifty roles between them. Graham himself contributes four storylines that try to link all the different threads together over the course of 24 hours.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Theatre review: Antony & Cleopatra (National Theatre)

Ralph Fiennes has a tendency to use his fame to get himself cast in roles he's always wanted to play - his Richard III was something he himself pitched to the Almeida, and this time it's the National staging a huge production at his request. This one's a bit more of an unusual bucket list role though, as he's always wanted to star in Antony & Cleopatra - and not as Cleopatra. Instead Fiennes is Antony, a male lead notorious for being completely overshadowed by his female counterpart (Nothing Like A Dame even features a whole conversation about how none of the Dames know an actor who didn't hate playing him.) Instead it's Sophie Okonedo who gets the plum role of Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen who'd already taken Julius Caesar as her lover before doing the same with his successor. The affairs might have been motivated by politics as she sought to keep the powerful Roman Empire on her side, but as Shakespeare sees it at least, the relationship with Antony turned into something real.