Sunday 29 April 2018

Theatre review: Masterpieces

Anger can be a spur to some powerful writing, but while anger over the relationship between pornography and misogyny is more than justifiable, I’ve yet to see it be the basis of a coherent piece of theatre. The Finborough proves that #MeToo isn’t the first time theatre has fought back against the oppression of women by dusting off Sarah Daniels’ 1983 play Masterpieces, which tries to trace a line from misogynistic jokes all the way to the murder of women. It starts promisingly enough with the standard dinner party from hell: Olivia Darnley and Edward Killingback (Yeah!) Them Motherfuckers Don’t Know How To Act (Yeah!) play Rowena and Trevor, whose dinner with friends and family degenerates into a series of sexist jokes. This scene actually contains some really good moments about the way men silence women, that could have come straight out of the Q&A scene in The Writer – like Yvonne (Tessie Orange-Turner) being asked why she hasn’t said much, and having Trevor jump in to answer for her that she hasn’t been able to get a word in edgeways.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Theatre review: The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, or, The Beau Defeated

Restoration comedy has been having a moment lately, and after the efforts of Southwark Playhouse and the Donmar Warehouse comes the RSC to provide the element that's been missing so far: A production that actually works as a comedy. Mary Pix's The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, more commonly known as The Beau Defeated, has as daft and convoluted a plot as any in the genre but crucially, in Jo Davies' production at least, it's possible to actually follow. There's a few different plot strands, all revolving around people trying to find a partner and/or a fortune, but the two main ones follow two women looking for husbands based on very different criteria. Sophie Stanton plays the titular Mrs Rich, widow of a banker and, in a bit of character naming that's painfully on-the-nose even by Restoration comedy standards, she's very rich. But in 1700 as in 2018 banking isn't the most beloved of professions, so the way she got her money means the society ladies she wants to mingle with look down on her.

Thursday 26 April 2018

Theatre review: Absolute Hell

It takes a certain amount of confidence to call a play Absolute Hell, given the likelihood it’ll end up doing the reviewers’ job for them; of course Rodney Ackland’s 1945 play, not produced until 1952, was originally called The Pink Room, which is only going to result in people like me saying something vague and misinformed about vaginas, so maybe titles were just never his forte. Set shortly after VE Day and either side of the General Election that would put Labour in power, Absolute Hell takes place in the Vie En Rose Club, a private members’ bar run, nominally – her staff regularly grumble about doing all of the work for none of the credit – by Kate Fleetwood’s Christine. A seemingly gregarious hostess with a penchant for men in uniform who tends to get as drunk as any of her customers, she really cuts a painfully lonely figure who needs the club and its clientele to keep her from despair.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Theatre review: The Writer

“I’m not sure what that was but I liked it.” That seemed to be the general impression I got from people on Twitter who’d been to see Ella Hickson’s The Writer in previews, and it’s a fair response to a metatextual headfuck of a play that challenges audiences on at least two levels: First by confronting the ongoing discussion around the status of women in the world, and as creatives in theatre in particular, and then by playing with format – but then this structural experiment also folds back into the gender discussion, providing a further looping nature to the way the play works. It plays out in five distinct acts, starting with a confrontation: A young woman (Lara Rossi) goes back into the theatre after a show to collect the bag she’s forgotten, and bumps into the play’s director (Samuel West,) who asks her what she thought.

Friday 20 April 2018

Theatre review: The Way of the World

A delayed trip to the Donald and Margot Warehouse, where James Macdonald's production of The Way of the World has been sadly overshadowed by the reason the performance I was originally due to see was cancelled: Actor Alex Beckett's unexpected death. Performances of William Congreve's Restoration comedy have now resumed with Robin Pearce replacing Beckett as Waitwell, and the rest of the run being dedicated to the late actor's memory. Unfortunately it proves a pretty poor memorial, as Macdonald has produced an interminable, impenetrable and woefully unfunny evening whose cast try hard to inject some energy into it but only succeed in small doses. I don't think I've seen Congreve's play before but I suspect it has to take a lot of the blame itself; the lengthy first scene in which Mirabel (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and Fainall (Tom Mison) exchange exposition about numerous similarly-named characters we haven't met yet sets a lugubrious tone the rest of the play struggles to get out of, and left me none the wiser about who anyone was by the time they turned up.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Theatre review: TINA

Weeder needer nudder hero!

When I was growing up I had Tina Turner’s Private Dancer album on cassette, and there was a period when I needed to listen to it every night to get to sleep, so there are memories associated with many of her songs for me; still, making them the subject of a jukebox musical didn’t automatically appeal. But TINA has a book by Katori Hall (with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Pris) and, having waited a long time to see another play by the author of The Mountaintop, it seemed silly to miss this chance when it presented itself. And while the script isn’t going to be either Hall’s finest hour or the standout part of the evening, the show’s biographical nature means it has to have a darker edge that puts it miles away from director Phyllida Lloyd’s most famous production, Mamma Mia. It undercuts any expectations of being a singalong from the start – the opening notes of “The Best” play, but within a couple of minutes we have the first instance of violence against women.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

Theatre review: The Phlebotomist

Ella Road’s imperfect but accomplished debut The Phlebotomist opens with a real piece of news footage, as a doctor is interviewed about genomics, the science of using DNA testing to predict someone’s future health; enthusiastically, she tells us how hospitals keeping records of everyone’s projected physical and mental health would be a boon to the medical profession and help treat problems before they even occur. Over the course of the next two hours we get more footage appearing on the screens with every scene change, this time scripted clips that build the dystopian future Road has created with this technology as its basis: Blood tests aren’t, at first, compulsory, but they become common and increasingly expected. The complex data collected is simplified to a score out of ten, and soon everything from job applications to dating profiles revolves around this, with anyone ranked as “sub” unlikely to get a mortgage, a decent job or a partner who isn’t as predisposed to an early death as they are.

Monday 16 April 2018

Theatre review: Instructions for Correct Assembly

Thomas Eccleshare isn’t a playwright afraid of a high concept, or of asking his creatives for the impossible, whether it’s nature fighting back against urbanisation in a very literal way, or a Mediaeval poem turned into a live comic book. Instructions for Correct Assembly, his first play for the Royal Court’s main stage, is no different, taking the idea of the IKEA flat-pack and wondering what we could be building out of it next. Harry (Mark Bonnar) and Max’s (Jane Horrocks) son Nick (Brian Vernel) died some months ago after years of drug addiction. But the couple have found a project to help them move on with their lives, and are excited to assemble their new son Jån (also Vernel,) who’s been ordered from a generic model (“white and polite”) but can be programmed to suit their own specifications. Through a series of comic scenes they iron out the imperfections, but as time goes on they feel the need to programme some grey areas back in.

Friday 13 April 2018

Theatre review: Périclès, Prince de Tyr (Cheek by Jowl)

Co-written with a pimp he met down the pub, and only surviving in a reconstructed version from text fragments, Pericles is not exactly one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, and in fact after tonight's performance I've now seen it as many times translated into other languages as I have in the original. The play's hero begins his journey by attempting to get a royal bride by answering a riddle; when the solution gives up a terrible secret he flees, realising that what he's learnt has put his life n danger. After a couple of shipwrecks he ends up finding then losing first a new bride and then a daughter, being betrayed by many of those he considers friends, and finding that the dead have risen. In one of my favourite endearingly batshit insane scenes in all of Shakespeare, having dug themselves into a plot hole he and Wilkins resolve it by having some pirates turn up out of nowhere to abduct the leading lady.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Theatre review: Strictly Ballroom

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Strictly Ballroom has its press night on the 24th of April.

I know it officially makes me a Bad Gay, but I haven’t seen Baz Luhrmann’s film Strictly Ballroom. This shouldn’t matter, of course, in seeing Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s stage adaptation, and there’s certainly nothing so complex about the story that you’d need to already know it going in. Still, I can’t help but feel that not already being a fan of the 1992 film – as most of tonight’s packed preview audience clearly were – meant something about Drew McOnie’s production was definitely lost on me. Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey) is an amateur ballroom dancer competing in the Australian Federation, which insists that all entrants dance only the strictly prescribed steps; this is mainly because Federation president Barry Fife (Gerard Horan) has a lucrative side-line selling instructional videos that teach the set routines. Scott isn’t satisfied with only dancing someone else’s steps though.

Saturday 7 April 2018

Theatre review: Macbeth (RSC / RST & Barbican)

Christopher Eccleston has spent so much time recently vocally trying to disassociate himself from Doctor Who that it's hard to remember he's ever done anything else. His latest role sees him return to the stage, for the first time at the RSC, to play the title role in Macbeth. As so often happens with Shakespeare plays (especially those on the syllabus) multiple productions have arrived at the same time, and this one coincides with the critically-panned version at the National. Well, Polly Findlay's production is infinitely more watchable than Rufus Norris', but in some ways is just as problematic. Right from the opening, Findlay and designer Fly Davis show they're not short of interesting ideas, as the audience enters to find King Duncan (David Acton) asleep in his bed, a trio of little girls looking on. These are the witches whose prophecies will turn the tide of the story when Macbeth and Banquo (Raphael Sowole) encounter them soon after a battle.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Theatre review: Pressure

The British obsession with the weather is a long-standing joke that gets referenced a couple of times in David Haig’s play Pressure; attempting to make a thriller out of the weather forecast – and succeeding – must be a new a twist though. Early June 1944 in a secret military base is a good setting to pull it off though: The Allied forces have been planning D-Day for 18 months, and it absolutely has to take place on Monday the 5th of June. To the best of their knowledge they’ve managed to keep the time and location of the landings a secret, but the more time passes the harder it becomes to contain leaks, and everything is set to go on General Eisenhower’s (Malcolm Sinclair) command. Everything except the weather, the one thing they can’t control, and after several weeks of summer they’re hopeful that the Channel will still be clear by Monday. But they need to get the approval of both American and British meteorologists, and the two don’t agree.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Theatre review: The Country Wife

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The production invites the official critics in tomorrow.

A man enthusiastically spreading rumours of his own impotence is the sort of thing that makes perfect sense in a Restoration comedy, and it’s the premise of William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. Harry Horner (Eddie Eyre) has a reputation around London for stealing other men’s wives, to the point that no woman will come near him. After a visit to France he returns a changed man, having contracted one STD too many and been castrated by a French doctor. It is, of course, a ruse; married men will enjoy patronising the eunuch and feel safe leaving their wives with him, and he can seduce them at his leisure. While he’s spending time under the table with Lady Fidget (Sarah Lam,) he’s also acquired a new admirer: Pinchwife (Richard Clews) has recently returned from the countryside, where he married the seemingly unsophisticated Margery (Nancy Sullivan.)