Thursday 31 March 2016

Theatre review: Les Blancs

It was left unfinished on playwright Lorraine Hansberry's death, but the National saw enough merit in Les Blancs to get adaptor Robert Nemiroff and director Yaël Farber to create a stageable version of this African epic: In an unspecified post-war, colonial African country, a European mission operates a very basic hospital. The influential pastor is unseen, off on some apparently regular trek into the jungle, but his blind wife Madame Neilsen (Siân Phillips) is there to meet American journalist Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowan,) there in search of the real story of a country whose decades of foreign rule have finally led to increasing black-on-white violence. Not satisfied with only getting the white side of the story, he focuses on a trio of brothers, all of whom are outsiders in some way, who've returned to the area for their father's funeral; particularly middle brother Tshembe (Danny Sapani,) who's spent years travelling the world and has a white wife in London.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Theatre review: Right Now

You'd expect French Canadians to basically be like regular Canadians with added baguettes, but if Québécois playwright Catherine-Anne Toupin's Right Now is anything to go by, just speaking the language seems to inspire the kind of theatrical mindfuck favoured by French writers like Florian Zeller. Alice (Lindsey Campbell) and Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) are a young couple who've been living in their flat for about six months; they seem settled enough but there's an underlying awkwardness, and the occasional sound of a crying baby that only Alice can hear is a pretty big clue to the cause of the tension. The sense of walking on eggshells is smashed when the neighbours across the hall decide to introduce themselves - Juliette (Maureen Beattie,) her husband Gilles (Guy Williams) and son François (Dyfan Dwyfor) are soon inviting themselves round and making themselves more than comfortable.

Monday 28 March 2016

Theatre review: Reasons to be Happy

Reasons to be Happy is Neil LaBute’s sequel to Reasons to be Pretty, which was itself part of a loose trilogy about body image with The Shape of Things and Fat Pig. Director Michael Attenborough returns to the four characters from the first play and brings a lot with him, including Soutra Gilmour's unusual shipping container set, a soundtrack inexplicably dominated by Queen songs (except this time there's an equally baffling diversion into Genesis,) and the leading man, Tom Burke, who once again plays Greg, now a substitute English teacher. The venue has changed though - Attenborough no longer runs the Almeida so has returned to Hampstead - and so have the rest of the cast, playing the man and two women closest to Greg, as he discovers the pitfalls of dating within a small circle of friends.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Theatre review: Raz

Playwright Jim Cartwright, best known for Jane Horrocks vehicle Little Voice, writes another piece designed to showcase one actor's range, in this case a male actor - specifically his son, James Cartwright. In the monologue Raz, Cartwright Jr plays Shane, de facto leader of his gang of mates, possibly because he's the one who knows where to get the drugs for their Friday nights out. Raz describes one such Friday night, starting with Shane shaking off the grey overalls of his Monday-Friday job as a forklift driver by spending his customary nine minutes on a tanning bed. Next it's getting dressed up while making sure he's already a bit drunk before leaving the house (cheaper than paying pub prices,) then meeting up with his mates and going to a series of pubs and clubs all over their unnamed town.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Theatre review: Don't Sleep There Are Snakes

It's been a few years since their last Arcola residency and now minimalist theatre company simple8 resurface at the Park's main house. This time Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton have gone - in another bit of déjà vu after Complicite's The Encounter - into the Amazon jungle with Don't Sleep There Are Snakes, based on Daniel Everett's book about trying to convert a remote tribe to Christianity. Dan (Mark Arends) is chosen as the missionary to the Pirahã because he's also a linguist, and nobody has ever been able to penetrate the Pirahã's language before. After a few false starts - not least of all them trying to kill him after he tells a local trader not to give them alcohol - he actually manages to understand the tribe's language, and the way it's tied in to their unique way of life leads him to some radical conclusions about linguistic theory.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Theatre review: The Truth

Prolific French writer Florian Zeller is fast becoming ubiquitous on the London stage; after the pairing of The Father and The Mother took a dark and moving look at crumbling minds and crumbling relationships, a change of tack with a much lighter look at rocky marriages in The Truth (which also has a companion play, and I imagine we'll see The Lie here too soon enough.) For the last six months Michel (Alexander Hanson) has been having an affair with Alice (Frances O'Connor,) the wife of his best friend Paul (Robert Portal.) They've been meeting in the afternoons in a hotel room, but things get derailed as it seems Paul and Michel's wife Laurence (Tanya Franks) might have cottoned on to the affair. Alice thinks they should just confess all to their spouses but Michel thinks they can brazenly style it out - presumably not realising just how bad a liar he is.

Friday 18 March 2016

Theatre review: The Painkiller

Déjà vu tonight as, only a couple of nights after Miss Atomic Bomb, another show goes through all the motions to make me laugh and fails spectacularly. That show had the word "bomb" right there in the title, just like Francis Veber's The Painkiller has the word "pain" to describe what it'd be like watching it. The fourth show in the SirKenBranCo season (the third was a revival of Red Velvet, which I'd already seen first time round,) Sean Foley adapts and directs a production originally seen in Belfast a few years ago. Alice Power's set is the familiar farce setup of two adjoining hotel rooms, the communicating doors left unlocked because plot. In the room on the left is Ralph (SirKenBran,) a hit-man who's chosen it as the window offers the perfect shot for the assassination he's got planned. Next door is Dudley (Rob Brydon,) in London to try and make up with his estranged wife Michelle (Claudie Blakley.)

Thursday 17 March 2016

Theatre review: Correspondence

In Lucinda Burnett’s Correspondence it's 2011, and 16-year-old Ben's (Joe Attewell) parents have recently divorced. His time is spent between the two houses, but one constant in his life is the amount of time he spends playing X-Box Live. A wannabe journalist who edits, writes, and is most likely the sole reader of his school paper, he's socially awkward with no friends in real life, but online he talks most nights with his friend Jibreel (Ali Ariaie) in Syria. A news junkie, Ben's heard of the unrest that's starting to brew there and uses his time playing Call of Duty to get the inside track from his online friend - ostensibly for an article, but probably more because he's started to feel personally invested in the conflict. So when Jibreel stops answering his calls just after there's news of teenagers disappearing, Ben panics.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Theatre review: Miss Atomic Bomb

You can avoid reviews all you like - and I try - but sometimes it's hard to miss the consensus about a show, and even before the official reviews came out earlier this week it was clear which way the wind was blowing for Miss Atomic Bomb. So saying anything about it now already feels a bit like kicking a man when he's down, but I'm afraid I won't be going against the flow: Gabriel Vick, Alex Jackson-Long and Adam Long (the latter also co-directing with choreographer Bill Deamer) have assembled an impressive cast for their musical premiere at the St James, but the actors end up looking about as confused about why they're there as the audience do. Lou Lubowitz (Simon Lipkin) is a 1950s Las Vegas hotel manager working for a gangster (David Birrell,) albeit a gangster who doesn't actually seem to have any illegal business beyond running a hotel in an unnecessarily aggressive way.

Monday 14 March 2016

Theatre review: Luce

What starts as a look at modern-day paranoia around terrorism turns into a sometimes sinister drama about communication and how well we know our own families in JC Lee's Luce. Liberal American couple Amy (Mel Giedroyc) and Peter (Nigel Whitmey) adopted an orphaned seven-year-old boy from an unnamed, war-torn African country. Many of the kids adopted in the scheme were traumatised and had major behavioural problems, but Amy and Peter were lucky - Luce (Martins Imhangbe,) now 17, has been a model son and his school's star pupil. But when one of his teachers, Harriet (Natasha Gordon,) sets her class an essay that asks them to "think outside the box" and imagine themselves as a historical figure at a significant moment, she's disturbed when Luce chooses an obscure 1970s terrorist. She searches his locker and finds dangerous, illegal fireworks, but as Luce has an otherwise unblemished record she doesn't inform the police, instead inviting Amy to discuss what she's discovered.

Sunday 13 March 2016

Theatre review: Don't Smoke in Bed

At the office where I used to work several years ago, a (white) woman on maternity leave came back in one day so everyone could see the new baby she'd had with her (black) partner. An older colleague was absolutely smitten with the baby, and her compliments included "Isn't she beautiful? And she hardly looks black at all!" It's a gobsmacking comment that came to mind during a look at how things are for interracial couples - and their mixed-race children - in America, as Aurin Squire advises Don't Smoke in Bed. In fact smoking, in bed or elsewhere, is something Jamaican-American Richard (Greg Lockett) and Irish-American Sheryl (Clare Latham) have just agreed to give up together when they start a series of interviews with an (unseen by the audience) reporter on a webcam: The New York Times Sunday magazine is doing a feature on various couples in their bedrooms.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Theatre review: German Skerries

Time for another round of Robert Holman roulette: For a hugely influential playwright* he has one of the most understated styles imaginable. It means I don't like to miss his plays because on the right day they can be gently, powerfully moving; but it feels risky because on the wrong one you get something like the notoriously dull Making Noise Quietly. But I was also interested to see German Skerries if only because the Bush Theatre uses the script to wallpaper the urinals in the gents', so if nothing else I was familiar with the title. The titular German Skerries are a treacherous collection of rocks by the mouth of the River Tees, so named when a Luftwaffe pilot fell foul of them during World War II. By the late '70s when the play is set, they're mainly frequented by cormorants, so a nearby outcrop with a good view of the skerries is a popular spot for bird-watchers.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Theatre review: The Argument

The title of William Boyd's The Argument does relate to one argument in particular - the one in the opening scene, which has repercussions for the rest of the play - but every scene sees a different pairing of characters lock horns. Pip (Oliver Dimsdale) and Meredith (Marianne Oldham) are disagreeing about a crappy movie they've just watched, when the topic suddenly gets darker, leading to Pip admitting that, after only three years of marriage, he's had an affair with a colleague. He moves out of the house, leading their friends to try and get them to reconcile, while Meredith's parents Chloe (Diana Hardcastle) and Frank (Michael Simkins) can't agree on whether they want their daughter to get back with her husband, or move on. A lot of alcohol seems to be fueling both the characters' aggression, and their bad decisions, a fact which Anna Ledwich's production highlights by leaving their empty wine glasses and beer bottles to litter the stage as the play goes on.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Theatre review: I See You

It must be a strange time to be Noma Dumezweni; a couple of months ago she was stepping into a lead role with zero notice, and she's another couple of months away from a potentially career-changing (and joyously Mail-annoying) role in Harry Potter. Her job between the two is positively low-key in comparison, but would be the high point of most people's year - she steps from centre stage to behind the scenes for her directorial debut (this interview suggests she basically says yes to offers first and worries about how she'll pull it off later.) You can see why the Royal Court would think of her for South African playwright Mongiwekhaya's (one name, like Cher) I See You: Dumezweni's family left South Africa when she was a child to flee Apartheid, and that's also what Ben's (Bayo Gbadamosi) family did when he was three years old. But now that he's 19 Ben's returned to study Law in a country that's no longer a war zone; or so he thinks, but for Officer Buthelezi (Desmond Dube) there's still a war going on, and Ben's the enemy.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Theatre review: Merit

Alexandra Wood’s Merit takes place in Spain, where the recession has hit jobs particularly hard, and opens with Sofia (Ellie Turner) a few weeks into a new, well-paid job with a high-powered banker. Her mother, '80s blouse-wearer Patricia (Karen Ascoe,) confronts Sofia with her suspicions about how her daughter got a PA job that, by her own admission, other people were better-qualified for. Did she offer her new boss Antonio something extra in return for a job so well paid it's now not only supporting her, but also helping pay her parents' mortgage? Although offended, Sofia doesn't actually deny the accusation, instead moving away from home to sleep on a friend's couch. Over the next few months Patricia tries to reconnect with her daughter, turning up outside her work, informing her of the ways the recession is affecting them - her father first losing his job, then attempting suicide - and asking to meet Antonio, because if he really did give Sofia her job on merit, presumably he'll give one to her equally-qualified mother.

Saturday 5 March 2016

Theatre review: Don Quixote

The RSC are of course marking the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare's death on the 23rd of April 1616*, but they're also acknowledging that Miguel de Cervantes died on the same date¥, with his epic comic novel Don Quixote getting a new stage adaptation by James Fenton. Angus Jackson directs David Threlfall as the titular impoverished lord who's spent his life in his library, absorbed in tales of Mediaeval knights-errant. As he gets old and senile he starts to believe himself one of them, and sets off on a mission to have adventures and bring the age of chivalry back to Spain. He promises the local layabout Sancho Panza (Rufus Hound) an island of his own to rule if he'll be his loyal squire.

Friday 4 March 2016

Theatre review: Welcome Home, Captain Fox!

The Donmar's latest season opens in high spirits with Anthony Weigh's new version of Jean Anouilh's Le Voyageur Sans Bagage, relocated to New York State in 1959 as Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Among her various charitable projects, aspiring socialite Marcee DuPont-DuFort (Katherine Kingsley) discovers Gene (Rory Keenan,) a WWII veteran in a military mental hospital, who doesn't remember anything before he woke up in in a French battlefield 15 years earlier. The wealthy Hamptons matriarch Mrs Fox (Sian Thomas) had a son who went MIA around that time, and Marcee is convinced she's found a match - and one that could get her a few rungs up the social ladder. Mrs Fox and her eldest son George (Barnaby Kay) are skeptical at first, but as soon as they see Gene they're convinced he's the missing Jack. But being in what he's told is his childhood home doesn't prompt any memories to come back, and he's not sure if he wants them to.

Thursday 3 March 2016

Theatre review: The Rocky Horror Show

I toyed with calling this a "non-review," my term for when I don't feel qualified to pass comment on something (usually because I didn't stay to the end.) In this instance it wouldn't have been because of me but because Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show has gone beyond anything that can actually be reviewed, into a surreal immersive experience where most of the audience know the script better than the cast do. In fact I've never seen the show on stage before, although I have seen the film; Christopher Luscombe’s production seems to be almost permanently touring the country so I always figured there'd be another chance to catch it. But after seeing the obscure sequel Shock Treatment last year it seemed about time for a visit to the famous original, in which newly-engaged couple Brad (arsehole) (Ben Freeman) and Janet’s (slut) (Diana Vickers) car breaks down and they go to a spooky mansion to see if they have a phone they can use (they don't.)

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Theatre review: The Tempest (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Although he's shown a lot of inspiration in his time running Shakespeare's Globe, Dominic Dromgoole hasn't been afraid of a cliché either, and so for his final production in the Swanamaker he directs The Tempest, a play dubiously seen as Shakespeare's farewell to theatre (a farewell so final, he co-wrote at least three more plays after it.) A decade or so after being ousted from the Dukedom of Milan, Prospero (Tim McMullan) has become master of a smaller domain: An island with only two other human inhabitants, his daughter Miranda (Phoebe Pryce) and his slave Caliban (Fisayo Akinade.) In all the years that he was neglecting his dukedom Prospero was studying magic, and it's with these powers that he plans to get it back: When the people who deposed him, including his brother Antonio (Brendan O'Hea,) happen to sail close to his island, he conjures a storm to shipwreck them into his power.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Theatre review: The Solid Life of Sugar Water

Jack Thorne's enigmatically-titled The Solid Life of Sugar Water is likely to be the last thing I see at the National Theatre's Keith before it gets pulled down, and if so is a strong farewell to The Artist Formerly Known As Shed: Phil (Arthur Hughes) and Alice (Genevieve Barr) are a young married couple describing, in great detail, a rather awkward night of sex. The reason for their discomfort around each other is that this is the first time for them since their first child was stillborn. They're both worried about each other - Phil has noticed it's been a while since his wife last showered, while Alice isn't mentioning the fact that her husband hasn't been eating properly for weeks - but they're not sure how to speak to each other since their child's death. Looking back on both the highlights of their relationship so far, and their recent trauma, if they can get their sex life back on track everything else might follow.