Friday 27 February 2015

Theatre review: Lippy

In last year's Blurred Lines, one scene made its point in the rather meta way of dramatising a post-show discussion with the creatives. In Bush Moukarzel's Lippy, this Q&A conceit becomes the framing device for a whole show about putting words into other people's mouths. It makes for a nicely disarming start to the evening, to have Moukarzel welcome the audience "back" and begin to talk about a show they haven't actually seen and doesn't really exist. With the help of a techie (Adam Welsh, also the composer and sound desginer) who doesn't always seem to be paying much attention, he interviews an actor who is also a Lip Reader (David Heap,) a talent around which the preceding show was built. It's an ability he's also sometimes been asked to use to help police inquiries, and one case particularly haunts him - of being asked to interpret the last known CCTV footage of some women who made a suicide pact.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Theatre review: Farinelli and the King

Amiably bonkers kings traditionally make for good theatre, so for Farinelli and the King, the first new play to be written for the Swanamaker, Claire van Kampen - better known as a composer - turns to 18th century Madrid and Philippe V, a grandson of Louis XVI of France installed, possibly to his own surprise, as King of Spain. He turns out to be a good monarch, but much of his business is war, which takes a mental toll on him. A bout of depression and paranoia sees him withdraw from human company and his duties, becoming obsessed with the passing of time. When we first meet Philippe (Mark Rylance) he's been awake all night fishing in a goldfish bowl, and berating the clocks for all showing slightly different times. For De la Cuadra (Edward Peel) this is an opportunity to have the king quietly shipped away and rule in his stead, but his doctor (Huss Garbiya) has one last ditch-plan.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Theatre review: The Mikvah Project

Last year the stage of the Yard Theatre got pretty dirty when Stink Foot flooded it with treacle, so it's understandable if it's due a thorough cleansing. A ritual Jewish cleansing, as it turns out in Josh Azouz's The Mikvah Project, for which designer Cécile Trémolières has put an actual, large heated pool on stage. The Mikvah, our narrators tell us, is a Friday night ritual usually associated with the most Orthodox Jews. 35-year-old Avi (Jonah Russell) has been married for seven years, happily so although his and his wife's inability to conceive is the main source of friction between them. He goes to the Mikvah to pray for a child, and while there strikes up a friendship with laddish 17-year-old choirboy Eitan (Oliver Coopersmith.) Unexpectedly, Eitan makes a pass at him, and even more unexpectedly Avi's protestations of not being interested don't ring that convincing, even to him.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Theatre review: Kill Me Now

A disarmingly funny look at disability and the lives built around it at the Park Theatre, in a production that's been much-trumpeted for seeing Greg Wise return to the stage for the first time in 17 years. Coincidentally, that's the same amount of time his character in Kill Me Now has dedicated his life to a single purpose: Widower Jake published one successful novel, but has since been making ends meet teaching creative writing courses, putting most of his energies into caring for severely disabled son Joey (Oliver Gomm.) He's had a small amount of help from social services, and once a week his sister Twyla (Charlotte Harwood) takes over so he can have a night off, but he can see himself as his son's primary carer for some time to come. A spinal disease sees him prematurely aged though, and suddenly contemplating an uncertain future for both of them.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Theatre review: The Memory of Water

Drama school productions are officially classified as amateur dramatics, which I prefer not to review. But as everyone involved is either professional or hoping to be so very shortly, I try to review accordingly.

A case in point - there was a news story the other day about Trevor Nunn directing a student production at ArtsEd; Phillip Breen may not have run the RSC, but he has worked there a few times. For LAMDA he directs Shelagh Stephenson's The Memory of Water, which as the title suggests is a memory play. Although it's less about specific memories than about what memories are and how they work. And how often they don't work - how people who've lived through the same events remember such different things, it puts a question mark over the reliability of our own minds. It's an issue that particularly fascinates Mary (Zoë Goslin,) a doctor who's become fascinated with a young amnesiac, and is ploughing her way through weighty textbooks on the brain. For now, though, she has to concentrate on her own memories for a while, particularly those of her mother, who's just died.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Theatre review: How I Learned to Drive

Nostalgia with a markedly sinister edge at Southwark Playhouse's Little, with Jack Sain's production of Paula Vogel's 1998 Pulitzer-winner, How I Learned to Drive. As she approaches 40, Li'l Bit (Future Dame Olivia Poulet) reminisces about her teenage years in the 1960s, and in particular her relationship with her uncle, Peck (William Ellis.) He did indeed teach her to drive, but from the first time we meet them it's clear that's not all that happened in his car - and if he'd had his way even more would probably have gone on. Li'l Bit initially flashes back to 1969, when she was 17 and preparing to take her driving test. But her narration then takes us back and forward in time, jumping through memories as they come to her, and building up a picture of how her adolescence formed who she is today.

Monday 16 February 2015

Theatre review: How To Hold Your Breath

Vicky Featherstone has had a rather unusual tendency since taking over the Royal Court, of matching other directors with scripts they can make a lot out of, while keeping some decidedly dodgy ones for herself. It's a trend that continues with her latest directorial effort, a take on the financial crisis and the future of Europe... at least maybe that's what it is? In Zinnie Harris' How To Hold Your Breath, Dana (Maxine Peake) is about to apply for a research post at an Egyptian university, but a couple of weeks beforehand she has a fateful one-night stand: She sleeps with a man who's mistaken her for a prostitute and when, the next morning, he realises his mistake, insists on paying her anyway. Dana refuses to take his money, but Jarron (Michael Shaeffer) turns out to be a demon, and much like a Lannister, a demon always pays his debts.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Theatre review: Othello (Time Zone / Rose Bankside)

It looks like we already know which Shakespeare plays will dominate this year: The usually-rare Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure will be much in evidence, and as for Othello this production at the Rose Bankside is already my second of 2015. Pamela Schermann takes the play out of its military context, cutting the story down to its five central characters who are now City bankers. Othello (James Barnes) has recently promoted young up-and-comer Michael Cassio (Denholm Spurr,) much to the anger of Iago (Trevor Murphy,) who expected the promotion himself. He plots to bring down both men by making Othello suspicious that his wife Desdemona (Samantha Lock) is having an affair with Cassio. It's intended to hurt their careers, but by going for such a personal attack Iago sets off much deadlier consequences.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Theatre review: Man

The Young Vic's smallest studio is definitely the place to go to see the latest award-winning new directors' work - this time it's the Genesis Future Directors Award that's back at the Clare, with Finn Beames this year's recipient for his production of three Tennessee Williams shorts, collected under the title Man. And the Young Vic's definitely the right place for it, as Beames seems to have drawn inspiration from a number of last year's main house hits there, most notably A View From The Bridge. The recent trend for stripped-back Williams that I've been enjoying continues here in Mayou Trikerioti's design of black, white and grey, the centrepiece of the traverse stage being a huge, shiny black frame that slides across the set to provide sometimes a window frame to look out onto unseen but crucial events; others a literal or metaphorical obstacle between the characters.

Friday 13 February 2015

Theatre review: Gods and Monsters

The film industry's early days saw it take as laissez-faire an attitude to homosexuality as most creative arts, but as movies became more and more of a business, puritanical attitudes set in. James Whale (Ian Gelder) was one of the first star directors, making his name with Journey's End but becoming most famous for Frankenstein and its best-loved sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. But by the time we meet him in 1957 he's long since been spat out by the industry. Wealthy but isolated, he lives in a Hollywood mansion, tended by his maid Maria (Trinity Wells, newsreader of the Apocalypse Lachele Carl) and getting the occasional thrill when he's visited by handsome young fans, whom he likes to convince to strip for him. But following a stroke that's left him with regular blinding headaches, even this is now too much excitement for him.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Theatre review: The Ruling Class

Jamie Lloyd opened his first Trafalgar Slightly Rearranged season with James McAvoy, and now he ends the second with him as well. Rather than a tried-and-tested Shakespeare though, this time it's for a class satire that's languished in obscurity for decades. It's no surprise on seeing it, though, that Lloyd managed to lure his leading man back, as Peter Barnes' The Ruling Class features the kind of role that most actors only dream of getting to play. When the 13th Earl of Gurney dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident, his title, property and seat in the House of Lords pass to his only surviving son. But Jack (McAvoy) is a paranoid schizophrenic with a god complex, who's spent the last 7 years in a mental hospital. Now he has to be seen in public again, and those fighting for control of his estate have to wonder if his behaviour can be passed off as mere aristocratic eccentricity.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Theatre review: Happy Ending

A slow, painful death is at the heart of Anat Gov's Happy Ending; but enough about the audience's experience, what's it about? Well-known stage actress Carrie arrives on a cancer ward for her first chemotherapy session, her initial diva-esque behaviour annoying those patients who've been there for some time, and have developed coping strategies. Having, apparently, not been too curious about exactly what's wrong with her, it's only halfway through this session that Carrie discovers her cancer has metastasized to several vital organs, and her treatment is unlikely to save her, or even extend her life much. Deciding she'd rather have what little time she has left than a few years of weakness and baldness, she asks for her drip to be taken out, but comes across hospital red tape that's determined to keep her alive.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Theatre review: Joan of Arc

If Friedrich Schiller is Germany's answer to Shakespeare, then Joan of Arc must be his Henry V. It even features its own Welshman, and takes place soon after the end of Shakespeare's play, as the French start to take back the land and power lost to the English. It takes an unusual general to reverse their fortunes, though: With the Dauphin (Natasha Rickman) out of cash, and at odds with his half-brother Dunois (Christopher York) about how to take on the enemy, they're open to desperate measures, like the arrival of young country girl Joan (Kate Sawyer,) who claims to be a messenger of divine support for the French cause. Allowed to test her claim, Joan proves a canny military tactician, bringing the traitorous Duke of Burgundy (Christopher Hughes) back to the fold, and defeating the feared English general Talbot (Christopher Tester.)

Thursday 5 February 2015

Theatre review: Dara

Based on the story of the 17th century Indian princes whose mother's death inspired the building of the Taj Mahal, Shahid Nadeem’s Dara is adapted by Tanya Ronder and directed by Nadia Fall for the National. Dara (Zubin Varla) is the oldest brother and Crown Prince, expected to succeed the Emperor of Hindustan. But after dispensing with youngest brother Murad (Rudi Dharmalingam,) the middle brother Aurangzeb (Sargon Yelda) mounts a coup, imprisoning Dara and their father, and installing himself as Emperor. Beloved of the people, Dara will always be a threat, but having him killed off will only make him a martyr. The solution comes in Dara's books of poetry and religious philosophy, in which the devout Muslim examines the teachings of other faiths. If Aurangzeb can have him condemned as an apostate to Islam, his blood won't seem to be on his hands.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Theatre review: Arthur's World

In the Bush Theatre's Attic space, playwright Helena Thompson wears Philip Ridley's influence on her sleeve as a group of damaged characters clash in a small London flat, while apocalyptic violence rages just outside the window. In Arthur's World, alcoholic pensioner Arthur (Paul Greenwood) seems to have kept himself to himself most of his life, but in the last couple of years he's pretty much become a recluse. This is in part because that's how long it is since a popular mobile phone game somehow exploded into reality, players no longer hiding behind their avatars but seeking out their opponents in reality, resulting in the ongoing, bloody riots known as The Fights. The other reason is that in the early days of The Fights Mikey, the son Arthur raised alone, went missing. Never having quite given up on his son returning alive, Arthur has stayed in the flat despite the violence raging just outside. On Mikey's 20th birthday, he's even baked him a cake, just in case.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Theatre review: Taken at Midnight

With the true scale of Hitler's plan years away from becoming generally known, the 1930s saw many in Germany start to fear their chancellor was far more dangerous than he appeared, but the world at large wasn't yet willing to risk taking action against him. In Mark Hayhurst's Taken at Midnight, one dissenting voice within Germany is Jewish lawyer Hans Litten (Martin Hutson,) who in a case against the Nazi party's militant Brownshirts dared to call Hitler himself to the witness stand. It was a deliberate humiliation that wouldn't be forgotten: Once the party come to power, Hans is arrested in the night and imprisoned "for his own protection." As the Nazis' power becomes absolute, he is moved from concentration camp to concentration camp, tortured for information on his former clients. His mother Irmgard, meanwhile, doggedly pursues the SS for news of her son, campaigning for his safe release.

Monday 2 February 2015

Theatre review: The Wasp

Although they came from very different backgrounds, Carla and Heather were good friends at primary school. But as they got into their teens, Carla started to resent her friend's much more privileged home life. Joining up with a new group of girls, they made Heather the most frequent target of their bullying, which ended up taking a particularly vicious turn. A couple of decades on, their statuses in life aren't too different to how they were as children: Heather (Sinéad Matthews) is well-off, married but childless. After years without any contact she's found her old friend/enemy on Facebook. She invites Carla (MyAnna Buring, as opposed to YourAnna Buring) for coffee, to make her a proposition. Poor, frustrated and pregnant with her fifth child, Carla assumes Heather wants to hire her as a surrogate.