Thursday 30 June 2016

Theatre review: Karagula

I don't know how much longer we'll be able to enjoy Philip Ridley plays now that we're actually living in one, but at least his latest dystopia is so utterly, unashamedly demented that correlating it to reality needs about as much imagination as it clearly took to write in the first place. Karagula takes place in an alternate reality, on a planet with two moons and - as far as its inhabitants can tell - only a single town surrounded by endless desert. In a twisted pastiche of 1950s Americana, teenagers Dean (Theo Solomon) and Libby (Emily Forbes) are having a romantic evening, spoilt only by Dean's worry that he'll be elected Prom King. It's an honour, but one with the unfortunate side-effect that, like every winning couple going back millennia, the Prom King and Queen will be driven away in an open-topped limo after the dance, to be shot to death in a literal reenactment of the JFK assassination.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Theatre review: Happy to Help

Supermarkets have been held responsible for decimating UK farming, then replacing family businesses with low-paid, soul-destroying jobs, and Michael Ross looks at both these aspects of the story in Happy to Help, which starts promisingly but soon reveals itself to be a fairly flaccid black comedy. After a prologue where Tony (Charles Armstrong,) the representative of multinational chain Frisca, buys the land from a farmer his company bankrupted in the first place, we flash forward 15 years to when Tony's become the UK MD of the company and, on the whim of his American bosses, has been sent to work the shop floor incognito as an "undercover boss," and get first hand experience of his staff's lives. Store manager Vicky (Katherine Kotz) knows his true identity, but seems more than committed to treating him exactly the same as everyone else, if not worse.

Friday 24 June 2016

Theatre review: Alligators

A different kind of paranoid thriller to Wild Upstairs, Downstairs at Hampstead Andrew Keatley's Alligators snap at a man in his own home. Teacher Daniel (Alec Newman) has an enthusiasm for his job that most teachers lose much earlier in their careers, but when a sudden allegation comes out of nowhere, suspicions form about whether his real enjoyment of the job is more sinister. After getting suspended without explanation, Daniel eventually discovers that a former pupil has accused him of various sexual assaults when she was 14. He has to defend himself to the police as the allegations rise and everyone from anonymous Facebook groups to the Daily Mail try to out him before he's even charged with anything.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Theatre review: Henry V (Open Air Theatre)

It's a year of gender-flipped and gender-blind Shakespeare, with a particular emphasis on giving women a shot at more good roles, and until Glenda Jackson's Lear arrives the most high-profile example must be Future Dame Michelle Terry as Henry V at the Open Air Theatre. It's not at the forefront of Robert Hastie's production but the lead actor's gender is acknowledged: During the opening speech the Chorus (Charlotte Cornwell, unsure of her lines) seems to be choosing who to give the role to, passing over more obvious choices to give the crown to Terry's slight figure. Appropriately Alex Bhat, who looks most put out to be overlooked in favour of a woman, later returns as Henry's would-be nemesis the Dauphin, pointedly sending the king a gift of the balls she doesn't have (although as we know from Cleansed, Terry does have a cock now.)

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Theatre review: Richard III (Almeida)

In his first new Shakespeare production since leaving the RSC, Rupert Goold takes on a (mostly) modern-dress Richard III that opens by reminding us of the recent discovery of the real Richard's remains under a car park in Leicester. As the famously curved spine is taken out of the ground, Ralph Fiennes' Richard stands over his own grave to deliver the "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech. A woman a few seats away from me was trying (and failing) before the show to get me to agree that this overt reference to recent events was patronising. In fact the idea of bones being exhumed and reburied becomes central to Hildegard Bechtler's design - the body of the late Henry VI is now a skeleton* about to be reinterred, while for every death Richard causes on his way to the throne, a skull is illuminated on the back wall.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Theatre review: Vassa Zheleznova

Like a lot of bloggers I've been plugging the work of fringe ensemble The Faction for some years now, but recently they haven't half been making it hard to maintain that enthusiasm. There was last year's "leave 'em wanting less" season, of course, and now before Vassa Zheleznova even starts there's a virtually unusable programme costing £5: Inspired by the title character listening to the Shipping Forecast, the programme is an A2 sheet folded like a map, making opening it and finding any information a tricky business. The cost is because it includes the playtext, although whether you'd be able to read it in the correct order is a different story. And speaking of different stories, Emily Juniper has transposed Gorky's play from revolutionary Russia to Liverpool during the 1990s dockers' strike.

Monday 20 June 2016

Theatre review: Wild

Mike Bartlett’s latest play doesn't mention Edward Snowden, but it makes no attempt to disguise its inspiration: Wild opens with American IT expert Andrew Wild (Jack Farthing) hiding in a Moscow hotel room, a couple of days after leaking a huge amount of data online, revealing the true extent to which the US Government spies on its own citizens and those of its allies. Miriam Buether's proscenium arch set is a pretty narrow letterbox - not always great for sightlines from the back, it has to be said - through which we see all that Andrew's world has currently shrunk down to. He's made a lot of powerful enemies overnight and has had to sequester himself without a phone or laptop to stop them tracking him down. Hopefully on his side is an organisation that's unnamed, but which can again be easily identified - it's reminiscent of WikiLeaks - and which has put him up in this safe room.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Theatre review: The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

I'm not immune to the charms of something a bit whimsical, but I think my tolerance can only take small doses. It's one reason I was sceptical about Emma Rice taking over Shakespeare's Globe, as when she was Artistic Director of Kneehigh their house style was essentially to pile on whimsy with a shovel. Her former company are now Associates at the Globe, and for Rice's first venture into the Swanamaker she reunites with them for Daniel Jamieson's The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. It's named after the Russian birthplace of the artist Marc Chagall (Marc Antolin) and his tendency to put couples in mid-air into his paintings. Framed as a phone call between the elderly Chagall and his agent, it sees him reminisce about his relationship with first wife Bella Emberg Rosenfeld, a marriage that ended up in the centre of constant political turmoil.

Friday 17 June 2016

Theatre review: The Deep Blue Sea

Quite a major case of déjà vu for me tonight, as although Carrie Cracknell's production for the National is the first time I've seen Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, it was only two weeks ago that I saw Kenny Morgan, based on the true events that inspired it. And as it turns out, Mike Poulton's play had followed Rattigan's template very closely. The Deep Blue Sea opens with Hester Collyer (Helen McCrory) lying unconscious in front of her gas fire, having attempted suicide. Her neighbour Philip (Hubert Burton) smells the gas, and with the help of landlady Mrs Elton (Marion Bailey) gets into the flat and revives her. This scandal causes another one to be revealed: The man she lives with, and who everyone assumed was Hester's husband, is in fact her lover, and she's actually still married to someone else.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Theatre review: Disney's© Aladdin®

When the Lyric Hammersmith took the frankly bizarre step of not only announcing but also putting on sale their 2016 pantomime when their 2015 one had barely opened, I couldn't help wondering if they were getting in quick before Disney© came to town, in case they announced that Aladdin® would henceforth be theirs and theirs alone to stage. After their films of Beauty and the Beast™ and most successfully The Lion King™ became stage shows, I did wonder why the 1992 Aladdin® was taking so long to join them, as it always seemed very innately theatrical to me. It finally has and now comes over to the West End, with the cartoon's well-loved original songs by Alan Menken©, Tim RiceDAME and the late Howard Ashman© joined by a few new numbers* from Menken with lyrics by Chad Beguelin™, who also provides the book. Although it's years since I saw the film it's one of my favourite Disney© cartoons so I've seen it a lot of times, and can tell this stage adaptation sticks pretty close to the script.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Performance art review: YOUARENOWHERE

Tickets to Andrew Schneider's YOUARENOWHERE are hard to get hold of, and there's a lot of positive buzz around the show but even so, looking at the cast bio sheet and seeing that until recently Schneider was a member of The Wooster Group had me toying with the idea of making a run for it. There's a reason the show's title is written as a single word - I wonder what it says about you how you read it first, as I immediately saw it as You Are Nowhere, but since it was pointed out to me that it could also be read as You Are Now Here that's all I've been able to see. The title is, of course, both of these options, and the piece - it's more performance art than a play - deals with this kind of duality, with being in two places at once, and in neither.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Southwark Playhouse)

My third Midsummer Night's Dream in less than a month, and there's been at least three other productions or adaptations in London recently that I could have booked but decided not to (plus a TV version I'm saving for when I'm a bit less Dreamed out.) The RSC called their version A Play For The Nation, and that seems apt enough as it might take the entire nation to cast all these productions. At least Simon Evans' at Southwark Playhouse requires less of a hefty cast list than usual, instead putting more pressure on each of its seven actors. Evans turns it into a play-within-a-play-within-a-play, the show opening with a cast using their own names and recreating the first scene with the Mechanicals - except instead of Pyramus and Thisbe, they're trying to figure out how to share out the 17 major roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream itself. Only Melanie Fullbrook gets just the one role as the cack-handed fairy Puck, who also serves as narrator, helping to fill in the gaps.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Theatre review: This Much [or An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage]

This Much is written by John Fitzpatrick, although the cast list says it's also partly developed with director Kate Sagovsky and the original cast, and these many cooks may be one reason the end result lacks focus, despite many strong elements. Subtitled An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage (which I imagine is a quote from an objection to the legalisation of equal marriage, although I don't know the source and a quick google only brings me back to this play,) it looks at how a gay couple might actually find themselves more constricted by their increase in options, not less. Unemployed Gar (Lewis Hart) has been dating Anthony (Simon Carroll-Jones) for about eighteen months, and and now they're living together, but while Anthony has settled into a cosy housewife role, Gar's eye is wandering.

Friday 10 June 2016

Theatre review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia

A playwright who has the same background as me - half-English, half-Greek - Alexi Kaye Campbell has dealt with a variety of themes, and now writes a play that looks at, or at the very least is set in, Greece. The subject matter of the military junta of the colonels in the late '60s and early '70s is a bit before my time and, while I wouldn't say it was a taboo subject when I was growing up, it's not something I was taught at school or know that much about. Not that Sunset at the Villa Thalia tackles Papadopoulos & co directly; Act I takes place in 1967, on the very day of the coup, but the setting is one where its influence is unlikely to be felt anytime soon: The island of Skiathos where young English couple Charlotte (Pippa Nixon) and Theo (Sam Crane) are renting a house from a local family for a few weeks.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Theatre review: The Go-Between

"How long is the show?" I heard another audience member ask an usher. "It ends at ten past ten." "But that's FOREVER!" How prescient an appraisal that turned out to be of The Go-Between, David Wood (book and lyrics) and Richard Taylor's (music) chamber musical that would probably have been dull enough in an actual chamber, but dies a slow, agonising death on a West End stage. Based on the L.P. Hartley novel famous for the line "The past is a foreign country - everyone in it's dead now and you'll wish you were too if you're watching this" (I may be paraphrasing slightly,) Michael Crawford returns to the stage to play Leo Colston, who looks back through his diaries from the summer he turned 13, and spent three weeks of his holidays at the house of school friend Marcus (Samuel Menhinick, alternating with Archie Stevens and Matty Norgren.)

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Theatre review: The Spoils

A couple of cases of third time lucky at Trafalgar Studio 1 at the moment: After the vanity projects from Zach Braff and Matthew Perry, a third US star comes to London to write and star in his own play - but actually seems to be doing so on merit this time; and with the Stark family heir and bastard acquitting themselves poorly at theatres just up the road, it's left to the adopted son of that Game of Thrones clan to give a decent stage performance. This time the American actor/playwright is Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Ben in The Spoils. Among the character types that appear frequently in American plays and films is a - usually well-off - New Yorker whose neuroses manifest themselves in a bitterly sarcastic misanthropy and self-destructive streak. Ben is that character turned up to eleven.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Theatre review: A Subject of Scandal and Concern

Theatre seems currently interested in reminding me of things I could have been arrested for if I'd been born decades or centuries earlier - the gay thing and the depressive thing on Friday, and today the atheism thing, as John Osborne tells the story of the last trial for blasphemy in England. A Subject of Scandal and Concern was originally written for television, and this stage adaptation hasn't been seen in London before, making Jimmy Walters' production another of the Finborough's trademark rediscoveries. The setting is 1842 Gloucestershire, where poor teacher George Jacob Holyoake (Jamie Muscato) is holding a lecture. He has a speech impediment and a tendency to dry up mid-speech, but despite being a poor speaker he's in demand to do so, as few other Socialists are willing to give public lectures.

Friday 3 June 2016

Theatre review: Kenny Morgan

Looking to somewhat more recent history than his adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Mike Poulton takes us to London a few years after World War II for Kenny Morgan. The titular Kenny (Paul Keating) was an actor and lover of Terence Rattigan, but by the time we meet him in 1949 his career had stalled and he'd given up his life of comfort with the older playwright who was at that point at the height of his fame, moving into the damp flat of his new, younger lover. But life with Alec (Pierro Niel-Mee) clearly didn't have an upside, as the play opens with Kenny attempting suicide in front of the gas fire. The smell of gas alerts his neighbours, who save him in time; not wanting to alert the police they instead call the first name in Kenny's address book: Rattigan (Simon Dutton.)

Thursday 2 June 2016

Theatre review: Sideways

When the St James Theatre announced it would be running without an Artistic Director, I couldn't help but be cynical about the claim that they wanted to work with lots of different producers for purely creative reasons; in the case of Sideways, it feels suspiciously like the show was programmed by the California Tourist Board, whose ads cover every surface of the hotel-like lobby and various video screens, while brochures get handed out by the ushers after the performance. Rex Pickett adapts his own novel about CaliforniaCOME TO CALIFORNIAwine country and David Grindley has staged it with Daniel Weyman as Miles, the failed writer and relentless wine pseud, who's about to be best man at his friend's wedding. It may be Jack's (Simon Harrison) stag do, but Miles has actually chosen his own favourite activity, and is taking Jack on a wine tasting tour.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Theatre review: The Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare's Globe)

This year is the centenary of Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising, the setting Caroline Byrne has chosen for her production of The Taming of the Shrew; it's the only reason I can see for a season with a "Wonder" theme to include a play that's short of that quality on pretty much every front. Byrne's all-Irish cast are led by Aoife Duffin as Katherine, the eldest daughter of wealthy Padua merchant Baptista Minola (Gary Lilburn,) notorious for her violent temper. Her younger sister Bianca (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman,) on the other hand, is famed for both beauty and a pleasant personality and has numerous suitors, but they'll all have to wait as Baptista has decided that a husband has to be found for the elder daughter first. The suitors need someone to take that bullet and Petruchio (Edward MacLiam) sees her hefty dowry as reason enough to take her on.