Saturday, 30 June 2018

Theatre review: Miss Littlewood

The influential theatre director and coat thief Joan Littlewood will always be associated with Stratford, so it seems inevitable that a new musical about her life would premiere there; but maybe there was some confusion about which Stratford, because instead of East London Miss Littlewood has turned up in the West Midlands, opening at the RSC. Sam Kenyon's musical sees Joan Littlewood (Clare Burt) narrate her own life, taking control of the story in a way that will prove characteristic of the way she worked. The show's conceit is that a further six actors also play her in various stages of her life, showing her getting older, but also suggesting constant reinvention - the younger Joans all represent different aspects of her personality, the older ones an attempt to tie them all together.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Theatre review: Fun Home

The Young Vic’s programme is announced so far in advance that only now, months after Kwame Kwei-Armah took over as Artistic Director, do we get the final show programmed by his predecessor David Lan. And it’s a powerful note to end on, as he imports Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron’s (book and lyrics) unconventional Broadway musical hit Fun Home, which adapts Alison Bechdel’s non-linear, autobiographical graphic novel for the stage. The story device sees Kaisa Hammarlund as the adult Alison try to write her book, struggling to come up with the correct caption to describe her relationship with her father Bruce (Zubin Varla,) the relationship which forms the centre of her story. It’s largely the story of her coming to terms with her sexuality and coming out, told through flashbacks to her childhood as Small Alison (Harriet Turnbull, alternating with Brooke Haynes) and her college years as Medium Alison (Eleanor Kane.)

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Theatre review: One For Sorrow

Some day I’ll see a play where well-meaning but essentially ineffectual liberals don’t turn into dribbling racists within minutes of being placed in an extreme situation; Cordelia Lynn’s One For Sorrow is not that play. A bomb has gone off in a West London nightclub, and terrorists are still in there with hundreds of hostages, threatening to detonate a second one. A middle-class family living in the area have effectively barricaded themselves into their home as the sound of sirens and helicopters comes in from outside, and while younger daughter Chloe (Kitty Archer) walks into the living room every few minutes with an updated death toll, her sister Imogen (Pearl Chanda) has attempted to be more proactive: In a plot inspired by a real event after a bombing in France when people opened their doors to strangers who’d been left stranded and scared, she’s posted #OpenDoor on Twitter, to indicate that anyone feeling unsafe nearby could go to her for help.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Theatre review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Lia Williams takes on another iconic role as the Donald and Margot Warehouse stages Muriel Spark's novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in a new adaptation by David Harrower. In a private Edinburgh girls' school in the 1930s, the final year of juniors is taught by Williams' titular Miss Brodie, a free spirit who avoids the curriculum wherever possible, preferring to teach "her girls" to be independent thinkers - as well as how to deport themselves in her own image, and aim for future success in the fields she believes them best-suited to. Sharing with them stories of her European travels and tragedies from her personal life, she becomes an inspirational figure many of them stay loyal to even when they've moved on to senior school, returning to spend time with her and the male teachers who are similarly enraptured by her. But as time goes on Sandy (Rona Morison) starts to see the cracks in her idol.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Theatre review: The Jungle

I originally had a ticket to see Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson's The Jungle at the Young Vic last year, but was too ill to go. But in the welcome recent trend of acclaimed shows that don't necessarily look like instant commercial smashes getting a West End transfer, I got a second chance as it's moved to the Playhouse for a summer run. And in many ways I was glad to have seen it here instead, because while it's not unusual to see the Young Vic host an immersive staging, there's something particularly impressive about Miriam Buether's design transforming a Victorian West End proscenium arch into the makeshift Calais refugee camp that was always in the news a few years ago. Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin's production starts at the end, with the French authorities evicting everyone and bulldozing the camp, before going back to the beginning.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Theatre review: Julie

As Vanessa Kirby’s Julie first walks onto the stage rubbing cocaine into her gums I couldn’t help thinking: You can recast Princess Margaret, but you can’t shake her off that easily. Polly Stenham has updated Strindberg’s Miss Julie to the present day, and the spoilt daughter of a millionaire who hasn’t come home to celebrate her 33rd birthday with her. A lot of people she barely knows have turned up though, and on Tom Scutt’s split-level set a party rages in the background while the quieter drama plays out in the kitchen downstage, where her father’s chauffeur Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa) and housekeeper Kristina (Thalissa Teixeira) are tidying up. Julie herself keeps wandering listlessly in to get away from her own birthday party, and to avoid the hangers-on upstairs. Jean and Kristina have recently got engaged, but Julie’s been ditched by her own fiancé, and is looking for someone to fill the void. The emotional void, not her vagina. Although also her vagina.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Theatre review: Finishing the Picture

Arthur Miller must have spent half his life being asked to write about Marilyn Monroe, and in his final play he did. Finishing the Picture may take place on the set of an unnamed 1961 film with fictional creatives, but there’s little question what the inspiration is: The film is the famously troubled The Misfits, the safari-suited director Derek (Stephen Billington) is John Huston, and the screenwriter Paul (Jeremy Drakes,) married to the unpredictable leading lady, is Miller himself. We never see Kitty, the film’s star, but she’s all anyone talks about. The production is nearing the end of its filming schedule – and budget – and the new producer, Philip (Oliver Le Sueur,) has flown in to see what’s holding up the final scenes. These all require Kitty, but she refuses to leave her trailer; even on the rare occasions she’s attempted to perform, the camera’s easily picked up how heavily sedated she is so the footage is unusable.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet
(RSC / RST, Barbican and tour)

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Romeo and Juliet, but it's also no secret that I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise - Rupert Goold's production was my favourite show of 2010, an accolade I gave it largely because making me like the play is a feat in itself. Since then no version I've seen has given me reason to think that was anything other than an outlier. I wonder how many others see Goold's as such a landmark, because since then the RSC has steered clear of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays: For comparison, Michael Boyd's Antony and Cleopatra opened around the same time, and the company has already revisited that twice since then. Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman is the brave soul tasked with finally taking on the star-crossed lovers again, and while this won't be another production to entirely defy my expectations, she's taken a suitably bold approach to the play, and one that attempts to solve many of the problems I have with it in performance.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Theatre review: Machinal

The Almeida’s current season of female playwrights now looks back to 1928 for a play whose expressionist style places it very firmly in that time, but whose script often feels almost unnervingly up-to-date. In Machinal, Sophie Treadwell despairs at the world treating all people like part of a machine, but there’s no question it’s women’s role in that machine that’s the particular target. Initially known only as Miss A, later revealed to be called Helen, Emily Berrington plays a young woman who works as a stenographer in a New York office where she doesn’t fit in, largely due to being the only one who openly admits she feels like she’s wasting her life there. Not that this deters the company vice-president, Jones (Jonathan Livingstone,) who proposes to her. Helen flinches at his touch, but she knows marriage is the expected next step in her life, and a wealthy husband would get her out of her 9-5 job, so she accepts.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Theatre review: Utility

Emily Schwend's Utility concludes another successful season at the Orange Tree, albeit one that's felt more quietly consistent than full of explosive hits. This, too, is in the same vein, an American kitchen sink drama about a woman just about keeping her head above water. The play starts with Amber (Robyn Addison) tentatively agreeing to let her husband Chris (Robert Lonsdale) move back in with her and their kids after a separation. It's implied, if never explicitly stated, that there was another woman, but in any case this doesn't seem to be what she's worried about: He's charming and well-meaning, but Chris is also unreliable and can barely seem to manage a couple of shifts at work every week, so Amber feels he'll end up being just another mouth to feed as she works two jobs. This week she's also got to worry about preparing an eighth birthday party for her daughter.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Theatre review: My Name is Lucy Barton

Ladies and gentlemen, LAURA MOTHERFUCKING LINNEY.

I’m still not sure any more review is actually necessary for My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s short novel adapted into a stage monologue by Rona Munro and directed by Richard Eyre at the Bridge Theatre. Bob Crowley’s simple set is a hospital room, where writer Lucy spent nine weeks in the early eighties after an appendectomy went wrong. She looks back on that time now, specifically the day that her estranged mother suddenly appeared at the foot of her bed – Lucy’s husband had asked her to come and paid for the air fare, otherwise she wouldn’t have visited. It sends her on a disjointed recollection of her childhood in rural Illinois, where the family were so poor she would stay late at school because it was better-heated than their house. The effect of this extra study time was a scholarship to university, where she met her future husband and moved with him to New York.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Theatre review: Translations

With the high-profile flops it’s hosted over the last year the usual arguments have come up about how the Olivier’s size and shape make it hard to fit anything but the biggest epic on it, so Rae Smith’s design for Ian Rickson’s production of Translations comes along to comprehensively disprove them: Brian Friel’s play takes place almost entirely in a schoolroom, and that’s what Smith puts downstage, but she surrounds it with foggy moors that suggest the country whose future is being discussed inside it, in ways whose significance is more far-reaching than it may first appear. This is a “hedge school” – a small private school teaching basic literacy and numeracy – in 1833 County Donegal, where a weekly class teaches those of the town’s adults who want to improve their skills. For Sarah (Michelle Fox,) who is almost mute, this can be as basic as building up the confidence to say her own name.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Theatre review: Fatherland

Frantic Assembly’s verbatim piece Fatherland is the brainchild of director Scott Graham, composer Karl Hyde and playwright Simon Stephens, who come from Corby, Kidderminster and Stockport respectively. Their idea was to return to those home towns and conduct a dozen interviews with local men about fatherhood – most of them fathers themselves, all of them at least having something to say about their own fathers. The resulting play puts their thoughts and memories on stage in a text put together by Stephens, sometimes set to music by Hyde, and brought to typically physical life by Graham, but the actual interview process and creation of the play ends up being as much if not more of what it’s about: As well as casting actors to play their subjects, the trio put versions of themselves on stage too, with Nyasha Hatendi’s Simon and Declan Bennett’s Scott leading the interviews while Mark Arends’ Karl absent-mindedly records everything in the background.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Theatre review: The Two Noble Kinsmen (Shakespeare's Globe)

A minor way in which Michelle Terry has already differed from her predecessors at the Globe is that this is the first summer season at the venue not to have an official overall theme - just how well past seasons ever really tied in to those themes is a different story. It's been no secret though that there's a very low-key connection between four of this year's shows, and that's "Emilia," a name that crops up in a number of Shakespeare's plays. The theme will culminate in a new play about the woman they may or may not have all been named after, but the first Emilia on stage this summer is the one who inadvertently puts a rift between The Two Noble Kinsmen. Fletcher and Shakespeare's last play together tells a story taken from Chaucer's Knight's Tale, a pretty thin story that's padded out in a way that leaves us with a messy, but in the right hands entertaining, few hours.