Friday 29 November 2013

Theatre review: Once a Catholic

The canteen at my work, like every canteen in the country as far as I can tell, always has fish and chips on a Friday; a sign that, although England hasn't been a Catholic country since Henry VIII found himself with more wives than the legal limit, the religion's influence is still felt in all kinds of unexpected places. One place you wouldn't be too surprised to find a supply of Catholic guilt is in a convent school in 1957 Willesden, the setting for Mary J. O'Malley's Once a Catholic. Kathy Fucking Burke revives the story of Mary Mooney, Mary Gallagher and Mary McGinty, three girls going into their O'level year at Our Lady of Fatima, and trying to reconcile the daily diet of fire and brimstone dished out by the terrifying nuns, with the approaching 1960s in the outside world and their own growing sexualities. A strong cast goes some way to bringing O'Malley's once-outrageous comedy into the 21st century, although it's not an entirely successful enterprise.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts

If Jumpers for Goalposts was worth travelling all the way to Watford for when if first opened - you can read a brief synopsis in my original review here - Shepherds Bush is certainly not too far to go for a repeat visit, as Tom Wells' play arrives in London triumphant after a national tour. I've been recommending this play left right and centre (forward) since I heard it would be coming to the Bush, and it seems I've not been the only one because the run had almost sold out and been extended long before performances here even started. If you weren't one of the people who took that advice the first time round, get in there quick now while there's a few dates still available, because a repeat visit only confirms what a little gem of a show this is, and a more intimate space only improves the experience.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Theatre review: From Morning to Midnight

I strongly suspect the National has served up another helping of Marmite because as I left the Lyttelton after From Morning to Midnight I overheard someone say he'd definitely be recommending it to his friends; I for one won't be though. Georg Kaiser's 1912 play, in a text by Dennis Kelly, follows a cataclysmic day in the life of a bank Clerk (understudy Jack Tarlton) who, after misunderstanding the intentions of a beautiful Italian customer (Gina Bellman) steals sixty thousand marks from the bank. On realising the lady didn't mean for him to run away with him and a stolen fortune, he's left alone, suddenly a criminal, and possessed of a suitcase full of cash. He roams the city, and between his family, the spectators of a cycling race, the prostitutes and clientele of a brothel, and finally the denizens of a Salvation Army shelter, he attempts to find meaning to life, and where his new wealth places him in it.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Theatre review: Trout Stanley

A Canadian oddity settles into the Little at Southwark Playhouse. Claudia Dey's Trout Stanley takes us to the remote cabin shared by a pair of orphaned twins. Grace (Vinette Robinson) has taken on their late father's job at the town's rubbish dump, but despite the dowdy day job she's actually attractive, confident and glamorous with a sideline in modelling - she currently dominates the local shopping mall's skyline on a billboard for a gun shop. Her sister Sugar (Sinéad Matthews) is not only physically very different but a real contrast in personality, not having left the house in the last ten years. That was when they turned 20 and their parents died, and every year since on their birthday a woman exactly their age has been killed, and it's always Grace who finds the body. They hope their 30th will herald a new start, but already a local stripper and Scrabble champion has gone missing.

Monday 25 November 2013

Theatre review: Lizzie Siddal

The Pre-Raphaelite equivalent of a supermodel, Elizabeth Siddal modeled for John Everett Millais' Ophelia, still the most popular painting at Tate Britain, and became muse to many artists of the Victorian movement. Jeremy Green's Lizzie Siddal looks at the life beyond the image, when Lizzie moved behind the canvas and attempted to become an artist in her own right. We first meet Lizzie (Emma West) posing for William Holman Hunt (a shamelessly scene-stealing Simon Darwen) and she later gets poached by Millais (James Northcote) for her most famous role, which almost proves fatal when the water goes cold and she contracts pneumonia. But her most enduring relationship, and one that could prove more destructive than any number of cold baths, will be with the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Friday 22 November 2013

Theatre review: In The Next Room or the vibrator play

The word "hysteria" famously originates from ystera meaning womb, because it was assumed to be a uniquely female condition. Hence the unlikely connection between 19th century medicine and sex toys, as explored in Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room or the vibrator play. A rather nifty split-level set from Simon Kenny gives us the living room of Dr and Mrs Givings, and above it the doctor's surgery where people arrive with various forms of depression and exhaustion. Dr Givings (Jason Hughes) and his nurse Annie (Sarah Woodward) treat the patients' lower, unmentionable areas to release the poisonous womb fluids causing their illness. It would all seem suspiciously like an an orgasm if any of the women had had one before. But Givings is also a big fan of the new-fangled electricity, and is replacing the hands-on method with huge buzzing vibrators - he's even designed a few new models himself.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Theatre review: No Place To Go

The theatre space at the Gate has been turned into a Jazz club, but the stage is lit by anglepoise lamps and decorated with bits of broken laptop keyboard, and the band look like a quartet of Jewish accountants turning up for a day at the office. That's because 9-to-5 office life is at the heart of Ethan Lipton's No Place To Go, both a celebration of working life and a look at what happens when it's snatched away. Lipton is a "permanent part-timer" who's been working in a publishing-related firm for the last ten years, to help fund his true passion as a playwright and singer-songwriter. Although in practice he seems to work a full day, his official part-time status means he doesn't get any benefits, but he does genuinely like his job and the people he works with. So the news that the company is moving to a different, cheaper town comes not just as a financial blow but a bit of a personal betrayal.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Theatre review: Strangers on a Train

"Strangers on a train, exchanging glances. Wondering, on a train, what were the chances..." Actually I think I might have entirely the wrong song stuck in my head. Laurence Fox and Jack Huston certainly don't end up sharing love before the night is through, although given the play opens with the latter getting up close to the former before inviting him back to his private cabin to ply him with alcohol, it does look on the cards for a bit. Guy Haynes (Fox) is an architect with a wife who won't grant him the divorce he wants, Charles Bruno (Huston) a drunken son of millionaires, who'd quite like to see his father dead so he can get his hands on the cash. Bruno proposes that the two murder each other's nemeses, providing not only an alibi but also no known connection to the killer. Guy dismisses the man as a crank but soon finds himself with a dead ex-wife, and Bruno demanding he keep his end of the bargain.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Theatre review: Prince of Denmark

The final NYT show playing in repertory at the Ambassadors, as well as in a double bill with Romeo and Juliet at selected performances, is Michael Lesslie's Hamlet prequel, Prince of Denmark. Echoing a number of elements of Shakespeare's original, the play takes particular inspiration from the moment where Laertes returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death, threatening a coup and apparently having the popular support to make it a real possibility. Taking place a year or two before the events of Hamlet, we're at the point where the Prince's love letters to Ophelia are starting to look serious. Angered by the suspicion that Hamlet is just trying to get Ophelia into bed before ditching her, Laertes' thoughts start to turn against the Danish monarchy in general. But his proto-socialist pronouncements are marred by the obvious fact that it's himself he sees replacing them in power.

Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet (NYT / Ambassadors)

Alongside the Tory Boyz revival, the National Youth Theatre's West End rep season also features two adaptations of Shakespeare tragedies. First up Romeo and Juliet, for which director Paul Roseby uses the abbreviated version Lolita Chakrabarti created for the TV show When Romeo Met Juliet a few years ago. This resets the action from Verona to 1980s Camden Town, and specifically to a market, where the warring families become rival clothes stall holders. To a background of '80s hits performed by the cast, Romeo's (Niall McNamee) professed love for Rosaline goes out of the window when he spots Juliet (Aruhan Galieva.) But he's a Montague, she's a Capulet, and ancient grudge means the match will never be allowed. Being teenagers, elopement followed by double suicide seems to them a perfectly reasonable way out of this predicament.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Theatre review: That Face

When That Face made its debut all the publicity was inevitably about the fact that it was written by a 19-year-old. Six years after it premiered Polly Stenham is an established name with a loose trilogy of plays puncturing the smug (and frequently incontinent) upper-middle classes, so this first London revival is an opportunity to see her first work on its own terms. Of course, the concerns of a teenage girl who went to boarding school are not a surprising place for the story to kick off: Alice (Imogen Byron) is a newcomer who's been tied up by her head of house Izzy (Georgina Leonidas) and her friend Mia (Stephanie Hyam) in a cruel initiation prank. But Mia goes one irresponsible step further: Before the prank she secretly dosed the 14-year-old up with Valium, in what turns out to be an overdose that sends Alice into a coma.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Theatre review: Antony and Cleopatra (RSC, Public Theater NY & GableStage / Swan & tour)

The RSC pairs half a cast's worth of British actors with another half made up of Americans - WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? Actually a lot more could have gone wrong than does in Tarrell Alvin McCraney's production of Antony and Cleopatra, which is intended to signal the start of a year-long transatlantic ensemble of actors, led by the American writer-director. In the wake of Julius Caesar's death, the Roman Empire is ruled by a Triumvirate. But the ambition of the ruthless politician Octavius Caesar (Samuel Collings) to rule alone is made more achievable by his co-rulers' weaknesses: Lepidus (Henry Stram) is getting on and the warrior Mark Antony (Jonathan Cake) has been distracted in Egypt by falling in love with Cleopatra (Joaquina Kalukango.) Unable to balance love with politics, Antony ends up making bad decisions in both and the royal pair pay with their lives.

Friday 15 November 2013

Theatre review: Mojo

When Jez Butterworth's debut play was staged in 1995 his style was often described as Pinteresque, and Pinter himself appeared in the film version; so it's apt enough that it's returned to London with a run at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Original director Ian Rickson revives 1950s gangster comedy-thriller Mojo with a cast to satisfy any number of fanbases, from Harry Potter to James Bond, Merlin to Downton Abbey. Ezra's Atlantic is a small-time Soho nightclub, mostly a front for other activities that are never specified, but seem to involve a getaway driver. But the club itself has suddenly become a hot property thanks to the discovery of singer Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries,) a pretty teenager who appeals both to screaming teenage girls and, by the sound of it, the odd middle-aged gangster as well. But a meeting between Ezra and the boss of a rival gang ends with Ezra dead, Johnny kidnapped and the gang dealing with a power vacuum at the top.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Theatre review: Our Ajax

A figure of pure brute force, Ajax isn't one of the best-loved heroes of the Trojan War, better known nowadays for his bathroom scouring abilities. Timberlake Wertenbaker admits in her introduction to the playtext that Sophocles' play about him was hard for her to get to grips with. So her new version Our Ajax takes a different tack to most of her classical translations, more explicitly superimposing a modern story of Afghanistan over the one set in Troy - with only partial success. We first meet Ajax (Joe Dixon) dragging bloody corpses across the stage: When his nemesis Odysseus (Adam Riches) was promoted above him, Ajax snapped and murdered him and all his soldiers. Or so he thinks: In fact the goddess Athena (Gemma Chan) cast a confusion spell over him to protect Odysseus, and he actually slaughtered the allied army's goats and dogs.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Theatre review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe

The Fastest Clock in the Universe is surreal, sinister and drenched in dark poetry. In other words, by Philip Ridley's standards it's positively gritty naturalism. Cougar Glass (Joshua Blake) enjoyed his 19th birthday so much he's doing it all again, like he has for the last eleven years. He's dyed his hair, and any grey he missed is being tweezed out by Captain Tock (Ian Houghton,) the older antiques dealer who seems to finance Cougar's lifestyle of indolence, sunbathing, cigarettes and alcohol. The cake's been bought, birthday cards from imaginary friends have been laid out and the only thing missing is the special guest: For weeks Cougar has been grooming a grieving teenage boy, and the party is due to be the culmination of his seduction. But Foxtrot Darling (Dylan Llewellyn) brings with him a surprise that'll make this 19th birthday go a little differently from all the others.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Theatre review: Twelve Angry Men

There's lots of shows opening in the West End right now and for a moment I thought tonight's had got a bit confused: The sound effect of a speeding train over the opening made me wonder if I'd rocked up at the Hitchcock adaptation a week early. But the sound turns out to be on-theme for this stage transfer of another famous film, which Reginald Rose adapted from his own 1954 screenplay. The Twelve Angry Men in question are the jury in a murder case, twelve white men deciding whether a black teenager stabbed his father in the middle of the night. Eleven jurors immediately cast their guilty vote but Juror 8 (Television's Martin Shaw) has reasonable doubt, and asks only that the rest take the time to discuss the case before condemning a man to death. The evidence is largely circumstantial but there's a lot of it - yet it turns out to be easier to poke holes in than the perfunctory defence made it look in court.

Monday 11 November 2013

Theatre review: The Island

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This review is of the final preview performance before Press Night.

The Island currently being reconstructed in the Young Vic's Clare is Robben Island, better known as the place Nelson Mandela spent his years of captivity. Athol Fugard's play, devised with John Kani & Winston Ntshona, follows a couple of days in the lives of two political prisoners, cellmates who didn't know each other until they offended the Apartheid regime and ended up spending 24 hours a day together. When we meet them they've spent a day moving wheelbarrow loads of sand up and down the beach, a task designed to turn them on each other as each sees his cellmate make his own job an endless one. This particular bit of cruelty is a new one, but typical of their lives there. Once finally back in their cell their exhaustion doesn't stop them working towards a small triumph of their own: There's an inmates' concert coming up and John (Daniel Poyser) is intent on staging a version of Antigone, with Winston (Jimmy Akingbola) in the title role.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Theatre review: Bluebeard

Are there a lot more monologues around this year or am I just catching them all? The latest person to be giving an audience his side of the story is a version of the original fairytale serial killer, Bluebeard. In Hattie Naylor's play, Jim (Paul Mundell) is a sharp-suited charmer whose drawling way of speaking and shark-like grin mark him out as a bit creepy from the off, but as he goes on to explain this is never a drawback when trying to seduce women. Far from it, he believes that the women he ends up with aren't just drawn to the bad boy, they're actively attracted to the possibility of physical violence and genuine danger. So he makes sure they're not disappointed as he tells us about some of the women he's known. His seductions are a slow tease, but when it's finally time for sex it involves bondage, submission and pain. He occasionally even lets them live afterwards.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Theatre review: H.M.S. Pinafore

Gilbert and Sullivan aren't among my theatrical must-sees; until now H.M.S. Pinafore existed for me only as a handy distraction technique if Sideshow Bob's after you. But I've enjoyed Sasha Regan's recent revivals so this had to be worth a look. Regan's all-male productions are becoming a bit of an annual institution, but all-male G&S also finds an unlikely historical precedent in the Second World War, where POWs would put on operettas to keep themselves entertained in Stalag 383. So this latest production has a more rough-and-ready feel than usual, with a framing device that sees a group of captured airmen break into song in their bunk beds. Actually, the archive photos in the programme suggest the real POWs managed to get together costumes at least as elaborate at the Union's productions usually provide, but there's a layer of fun in having life-jackets and collars co-opted to suggest the women's dresses and brooches.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Theatre review: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Following regional tours, a couple of high-profile comedies are landing in the West End in the run-up to Christmas, and first up are a duo as quintessentially English as the word "quintessentially." I can only take P.G. Wodehouse in small doses, but those doses can be pretty inspired, and his most famous creations are Jeeves and Wooster. Based on various Wodehouse stories, the Goodale Brothers' Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense sees upper-class twit Bertie Wooster (Stephen Mangan) attempt a one-man show in which he intends to regale the audience with one of his ludicrous misadventures. His determination to go it alone barely lasts a couple of minutes before he needs his trusty valet Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) to bail him out as usual. From keeping the story on track, to playing supporting characters and even building the set, Jeeves has to run the show.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Theatre review: Macbeth of Fire and Ice

It's been a Macbeth kind of year, and the latest is a cut-down version playing at the Arcola's main house. Director Jon Gun Thor has retitled his version Macbeth of Fire and Ice, apparently to suggest an Icelandic influence, although it might be more in the hope of confused Game of Thrones fans buying a ticket by accident. The idea is that a suggestion of Norse mythology is seen in turning the Weird Sisters into versions of the Fates, weaving lines suspended around the stage like a cobweb. The other major visual theme is of mixed martial arts, because I know kung fu's the first thing I think of if you mention Iceland. In black hoodies and trackie bottoms, six actors cast for their kicking ability play all the roles, differentiating between the characters through the medium of not differentiating between the characters.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

theatre review: nut

playwright, director and enemy of uppercase letters debbie tucker green has shown an ability to write in different styles in those plays of hers i've seen so far. nut, which premieres at the national theatre's shed, displays a similar variety in its three short acts. the story centres on elayne (nadine marshall,) a woman who rarely leaves her flat, which is untidy and filled with the lists she compulsively makes. we meet her and her friends aimee (sophie stanton) and devon (anthony welsh) as they have a funny rhetorical conversation about planning their own funerals. but the naturalistic dialogue can't disguise forever the fact that there's something slightly off, a pinteresque undertone of surreal menace to their conversation. aimee is increasingly insistent that, while she will die peacefully in her sleep some day, elayne will be the first to die, and violently. devon goes further, dropping hints that elayne should kill herself or at least self-harm; he's also strangely hostile to a young boy (tobi adetunji, zac fitzgerald or jayden fowora-knight) who joins them, singing tunelessly.

Monday 4 November 2013

Theatre review: Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck

Judging by the amount of anniversaries being celebrated at the moment it was all kicking off fifty years ago. The National Theatre has just marked its half-century and Doctor Who is about to do the same. But the latter had an inauspicious start when its premiere episode was overshadowed by John F Kennedy's assassination. The events of Dallas have of course gone on to become the bread and butter of conspiracy theorists to this day, but with the assassin only outliving the President by 48 hours, doubts were cast over Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt from the start. By 1966 playwright Michael Hastings had attempted to shed light on the situation with Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck. The subtitle is a quote from Oswald's own diaries, and gives a clue about the kind of chaotic personality we're going to be looking at.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Theatre review: Unscorched

For the third year running the Finborough Theatre hosts the Papatango playwrighting competition, although this year they've simplified things further and are just presenting the winner in a full production. Luke Owen's Unscorched looks at what for most people must be the epitome of a dirty job they'd rather someone else did. Tom (Ronan Raftery) has just started a job in digital analysis for child protection services. What this translates into is clicking on website links that have been flagged up as suspicious, and determining whether or not they really show one of five categories of child abuse; if so, he passes them on to the police. Many prove innocent but the ones that do need action can be traumatic to watch. Tom's determination to do a good thing is tested by the reality of the job, and the ways it affects his new relationship.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Theatre review: Richard II (RSC / RST & Barbican)

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of split ends and frizz.

After a year in charge of the RSC, Gregory Doran's first piece of programming finally rolls round, backing up a feeling that star casting is back to stay at Stratford where he directs David Tennant as Richard II. The great-grandson of Edward II, you'd expect family history to have made Richard fully aware that sometimes kings can be deposed, but instead he is steadfast about his divine right to rule, and does so capriciously. Banishing his cousin Bolingbroke is a bad idea, but worse is seizing his property once he's gone, to fund an Irish war. Bolingbroke isn't going to stand for it, and his return to England becomes a fully-fledged revolt. Faced with the fact that his power and even his life aren't as safe as he believed, Richard has to try and maintain both his crown, and the natural lustre and shine of his hair.

Friday 1 November 2013

Theatre review: The Djinns of Eidgah

Kashmir isn't just a disputed zone, it's been disputed since 1948, and is still awaiting the referendum that was promised to decide whether it's part of India, Pakistan or an independent state. India seems to have a clear opinion on the matter, its military presence making the valley the world's most heavily militarised area. The predominantly Muslim local population fights back against this, and the conflict is the backdrop for Abhishek Majumdar's The Djinns Of Eidgah. When she was 10 years old, Ashrafi (Aysha Kala) witnessed her father's violent death and was mentally scarred by it, retreating into a fantasy world that she's still in four years later. Ashrafi's brother Bilal (Danny Ashok) cites her as the reason he's not as politicised as his friends, preferring to hold out hope that someone will spot his footballing talent and give him and his sister a new life.