Saturday, 31 March 2018

Theatre review: The Inheritance

While the National's production of Angels in America has been sent back home to New York, London now gets in return a play that draws inevitable comparisons to it: Matthew Lopez is in effect following the next generation of New York gay men, in an epic play that also pushes at the seven-hour mark and is split into two parts. But The Inheritance has an unexpected way of avoiding the comparison with Tony Kushner's plays, as it also has a close connection to another famous work, being a surprisingly faithful adaptation of E.M. Forster's Howards End. Forster himself appears in the play, the story's framing device seeing his ghost (Paul Hilton) lead a creative writing class of young gay men looking for a way to tell their own stories, and settling on his novel as the framework. Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) is a gay man in his mid-thirties who befriends the older Walter (Hilton,) long-term partner to a billionaire property developer.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Theatre review: Vincent River

A production of Vincent River eight years ago was one of the plays that established Philip Ridley as one of my absolute favourite playwrights, so a revival at the Park Theatre's studio space was something to get excited about. First produced in 2001 but with elements that are sadly still relevant with the rise in homophobic hate crime since the Brexit vote, the titular Vincent is what the play's characters have in common, but we never see him because he died 18 weeks earlier, beaten to death in a Shoreditch cottage. His mother Anita (Louise Jameson,) who claims never to have suspected her son's sexuality, has just moved to Dagenham to get away from the scene of the crime and the backlash from her neighbours, but she's not got away from everyone who's interested in her story - a young man has been stalking her, not particularly subtly so she's well aware he's there.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Theatre review: Kiss of the Spider Woman

Manuel Puig's novel Kiss of the Spider Woman seems to be of endless fascination to theatremakers - I saw a stage version at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007, and there also exists a notoriously Marmite Kander and Ebb musical on the subject. But for the Menier Chocolate Factory production, Laurie Sansom uses another new adaptation, by Motorcycle Diaries screenwriter José Rivera and American playwright Allan Baker. The setting is a jail cell in 1970s Argentina, a time when the junta regularly imprisoned and tortured political dissidents like Valentin (Declan Bennett.) He shares this space with Molina (Samuel Barnett,) a gay window dresser convincted of gross indecency. The two have little in common, but bond when Molina starts to tell his cellmate bedtime stories to help him sleep.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Theatre review: Caroline, or Change

Daniel Evans' first season in charge of Chichester has already suggested he'll be following his predecessor in transferring a lot of shows to the West End: Quiz and King Lear are on their way, and Michael Longhurst's production of Caroline, or Change will follow them in the autumn, but first it has a sold-out run at Hampstead. Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's musical, loosely inspired by Kushner's childhood and his family's maid, takes place in 1963 Louisiana, where Caroline Thibodeaux (Sharon D. Clarke) spends her days doing laundry in the sweltering basement of the Gellman family. Unlike most of the local maids, she wears her exhaustion and anger at hard work for little pay openly, which has got her a reputation as being particularly unfriendly and unlikeable. But the Gellmans' young son Noah (Aaron Gelkoff, alternating with Charlie Gallacher,) adores her, especially since his mother's death from cancer.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Theatre review: Humble Boy

I didn't catch Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy when it premiered at the National in 2001, but I've heard it mentioned a lot since as one of the best-loved new plays of the time. Paul Miller now tests how well it's aged with a revival of this gentle tragicomedy with overt Hamlet allusions. Designer Simon Daw has gone all-out in transforming the Orange Tree's in-the-round stage into the garden of Flora Humble's (Belinda Lang) Cotswolds home. Her husband has just died and her son Felix (Jonathan Broadbent) has returned after a long absence to attend the funeral, only to disappear when he was meant to be giving the eulogy. Felix is a theoretical astrophysicist who's been trying to find a unifying theory of the cosmos. His attempts to examine his inner life have been as unsuccessful as those to examine black holes, and he arrives back at the family home still in a suicidal mood.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Theatre review: Macbeth (National Theatre & tour)

Remember when Anne-Marie Duff was best known as Fiona from Shameless, rather than as a harbinger of dodgy plays? Me neither.

Duff and Rory Kinnear were paired up as the Macbeths in a scene for the RSC’s 2016 Shakespeare celebration special, but it’s the National that’s brought them together again for a full production. Much has been made of the fact that this Macbeth is Rufus Norris’ first time directing Shakespeare in 25 years, and only his second ever, an admission that’s inevitably come back to haunt a production whose negative critical reaction has been hard to miss, even if you try to avoid reviews and spoilers. Coming in with low expectations can sometimes mean you’re pleasantly surprised, and I guess at least we can say that Duff hasn’t landed herself in something quite as unwatchable as Common again (Ian and I both actually came back after the interval this time.) Norris has moved the play’s setting from mediaeval Scotland to a post-apocalyptic near future where supplies are scarce and gangs in makeshift armour fight over what’s left.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Theatre review: Misty

The only black man on the night bus - describing himself as the virus among blood cells - gets into a quick scuffle with a drunk, and finds the situation escalating until he's on the front of the local papers, being sought as Public Enemy Number One. Arinzé "chest day is his favourite day" Kene's Misty is storytelling theatre crossed with performance art and music gig, but it's also a postmodern deconstruction of itself: Backed by two musicians, Kene performs his own play, following his central character on a journey around a London he's starting not to recognise, written in a mix of poetry, rap and song. It's a familiar story of black Londoners facing discrimination and fighting against the disadvantages they grew up with, and the question is, is it too familiar? Kene bursts the bubble of the atmosphere he's created, stepping back from performer to writer and questioning why he's telling this particular story.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Theatre review: The Great Wave

A commonplace scene of teenage sisters squabbling quickly turns into a thriller when Hanako (Kirsty Rider) is dared to go for a late-night walk on the beach in the middle of a storm and disappears. She's assumed to have been washed away by a wave but her sister Reiko (Kae Alexander) insists she saw three men take her away. The investigation is fruitless and eventually abandoned, but a few years later the girls' friend Tetsuo (Leo Wan,) trying to clear his own name of suspicion in her disappearance, uncovers a wild conspiracy theory that might just hold the answer: Hanako's disappearance in 1979 might have been the first in a series of abductions of young Japanese men and women by North Korean forces. Francis Turnly's The Great Wave takes us from 1979 to 2003 in Japan and North Korea, which is indeed where Hanako is.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Theatre review: The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi won't let any man decide who she can or can't marry; as played by Joan Iyiola at the RSC, this seems to include her prospective husband, who doesn't entirely get a say in her decision to pursue their dangerous love affair. In Maria Aberg's interpretation of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi it's this strong will and independence, rather than the social inequality of the match, that is her downfall. The widowed Duchess' brothers, the unhinged Ferdinand (Alexander Cobb) and lecherous Cardinal (Chris New) advise her against remarrying, largely because they think if she dies without heirs they might inherit her wealth. The Duchess, though, has other ideas, but knowing a marriage between herself and her steward Antonio (Paul Woodson) will cause a scandal she marries him in secret.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Re-review: Hamlet (RSC tour)

Hamlet is a play so popular and frequently produced that I've seen it more times than any other, so it's not often I feel the need to revisit a particular production. Simon Godwin's 2016 Stratford version was one I did want to see again, and I was far from the only person to be disappointed and annoyed when it was the only show in that RSC season not to transfer to London. The reason given was that the cast was unavailable, but as many of them were in other shows in the season, including Paapa Essiedu in the lead, there would probably only have been the need for a handful of roles to be recast. Well that omission has finally been rectified, as Essiedu returns to lead a tour of this relocation of mediaeval Denmark to modern Africa, with some of the original cast also joining him; more recastings have had to be made than would probably be the case if it had transferred straight away, but it's not in the least to the detriment of the production.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Theatre review: Summer and Smoke

I’ve only seen one show directed by Rebecca Frecknall before, a production of the obscure Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke at Southwark Playhouse in 2012. Well either Frecknall herself or Rupert Goold must have thought she had unfinished business with it, as she now makes her Almeida debut with… a production of the obscure Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke. In a small Mississippi town early in the 20th century, Alma Winemiller (Future Dame Patsy Ferran) is the local minister’s daughter, timid, bookish and prone to panic attacks, with a slightly affected accent – which she puts down to her father having spent time in England, but most of the town sees as further evidence that she’s pretentious. She’s been quietly besotted with her neighbour, the doctor’s son John Buchanan (Matthew Needham) since high school and, after some time away studying medicine, John has returned for the summer.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Theatre review: Acceptance

17-year-old Hong Kong Chinese violin prodigy Angela Chan (Jennifer Leong) has been studying music in America under a scholarship for the last year, and is now applying to an Ivy League university. She’s been invited to what she assumes is an admissions interview, only to find the Dean of Admissions, Birch Coffin (Teresa Banham,) waiting to interrogate her on her moral character. After spotting some gaps in her application Birch has discovered that Angela left her first Performing Arts High School after accusing a teacher of rape, an accusation that was never proven and has been hushed up; Birch is concerned the girl might be a fantasist and a potential liability. Angela turns to the college’s new Diversity Officer, Mercy (Debbie Korley,) hoping for a champion against an admissions officer she believes has made her mind up against her already.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Theatre review: Pippin

The last time I saw a production of Pippin was in 2011, just before I started this dedicated theatre blog, but my regular readers will both know that Partially Obstructed View has a long history with Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson's 1972 musical: That Menier production was so many different layers of weird* that my end-of-year review still features a category called The Pippin Memorial Award for Endearing Whatthefuckery‡. So, come December 2018, will Pippin win the award that's actually named after it? Well perhaps not, as Jonathan O'Boyle's production, first seen in Manchester, doesn't veer too wildly from the original framing device of a travelling group of mediaeval players plucking a boy out of the crowd to play the lead: Maeve Black's design is Victorian vaudeville, with old-fashioned magic tricks joining the song and dance to tell a story based, incredibly loosely, on one of Charlemagne's sons.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Theatre review: Fanny and Alexander

The Old Vic's previous artistic regime was, famously, not really that interested in Fanny, but on Matthew Warchus' watch she's been put centre stage alongside her brother. Ivo van Hove's tedious double-bill had me uninterested in seeing another Ingmar Bergman adaptation, but casting Dame Penelope Wilton* was enough to make me change my mind about Stephen Beresford's Fanny and Alexander. It's easy to see why this one suggested itself for the stage, following as it does a theatrical family through the eyes of its youngest members, Alexander (Guillermo Bedward, Kit Connor, Jack Falk or Misha Handley) and his younger sister Fanny (Zaris Angel Hator, Amy Jayne, Molly Shenker or Katie Simons.) Wilton plays their grandmother Helena, matriarch of the Ekdahl family who run a theatre and restaurant in early 20th-century Uppsala, Sweden.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Theatre review: A Passage to India

simple8’s first show on the Park Theatre’s main stage was a bit of a disappointment, but for their second visit Simon Dormandy has struck more fertile ground with his adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. The story’s opening statement “one cannot be friends with the English” is challenged by Asif Khan’s Dr. Aziz, whose job puts him in the middle of two factions of the English in Chandrapur during the height of the Raj, represented by two young men who’ve embraced very different approaches to India and its people: Edward Killingback (Yeah!) Them Motherfuckers Don’t Know How To Act (Yeah!) plays Ronny, the new Magistrate who’s quickly embraced the prevailing attitude that India is there to be governed, its people there to serve. Schoolteacher Cyril Fielding (Richard Goulding) is another recent arrival, who firmly believes India is its people and wants to get to know them.