Friday 31 August 2018

Theatre review: Love's Labour's Lost
(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

It's great to see Jade Williams back at the Globe, even if it is indoors in the Swanamaker so there's no groundlings for her to vomit on. She and Dharmesh Patel pair up to play Rosaline and Berowne, the proto-Beatrice and Benedick who appear as one of the central three romantic couples in Love's Labour's Lost. That's right, three; Nick Bagnall's production, although not, to my knowledge, touring, has the kind of cast-size you'd expect of a "tiny" touring production, with eight actors covering all the roles. A cerain amount of editing is needed to make that work, and in this case Longueville and Maria have been edited right out of the play altogether. What's left is the story of the King of Navarre (Paul Stocker,) who talks his friends Berowne and Dumaine (Tom Kanji) into joining him in a puritanically strict three-year course of study that includes swearing off the company of women.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Theatre review: The Importance of Being Earnest

Dominic Dromgoole’s Classic Spring company was set up to present late 19th and early 20th century classics in the West End proscenium arch theatres they were written for, the suggestion being that’s something of a unique opportunity. While that might have been the case with some of the more obscure plays that opened the Oscar Wilde season, the concluding part is The Importance of Being Earnest, whose last West End revival wasn’t only three years ago, but in the same theatre, the Vaudeville. At the time I said the twenty-year gap I’d left since last seeing the play was probably about right given its ubiquity and familiarity, and I hadn’t been planning to return for this version. But the combination of Michael Fentiman directing and Sophie Thompson reclaiming the role of Lady Bracknell for actual female actors was tempting, and with a quiet August week on the horizon I decided to fill a spare evening seeing if some well-worn bon mots could feel fresh.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Theatre review: The Merry Wives of Windsor
(RSC / RST & Barbican)

I'd been fully expecting the RSC to announce that Antony Sher would return to the role of Sir John Falstaff "by" "popular" "demand" when the complete works got round to The Merry Wives of Windsor, but apparently King Lear marked the First Lady's retirement from Shakespeare so instead it's another RSC stalwart who gets a crack at one of the most popular characters, albeit in his least popular appearance. David Troughton plays Falstaff in a play rumoured, somewhat dubiously, to have been commissioned by Elizabeth I herself when she wanted to see more of the breakout star of the Henry IV plays. It's this legend Fiona Laird's production takes as its starting-point, with a Terry Gilliam-style animation of the Queen demanding Shakespeare get out of bed and write her a spin-off in two weeks (a timescale that, let's face it, isn't rendered entirely implausible by much of what follows.)

Thursday 23 August 2018

Theatre review: Aristocrats

…so the agent says “And what do you call this act?”

Aristocrats is the latest in the Donald and Margot Warehouse’s occasional focus on Irish theatre, and the second Brian Friel play in London this summer after Translations – written in 1979, this immediately predates it. Tom (Paul Higgins) is an American academic writing a paper on Irish Catholic manor houses and the families who’ve lived in them for centuries. He’s doing research at Ballybeg Hall, once presided over by Judge O’Donnell (James Laurenson,) who ever since suffering a stroke has been confined to his room in a state of confusion, cared for 24/7 by his eldest daughter Judith (Eileen Walsh.) Youngest daughter Claire (Aisling Loftus,) heavily medicated after a lifetime of depression and anxiety, is about to get married so their siblings Alice (Elaine Cassidy) and Casimir (David Dawson) have returned for the wedding from their homes in England and Germany respectively; a fourth sister is a nun who hasn’t returned from her mission in Africa for years.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Theatre review: Things of Dry Hours

A white stranger forces his way into a black family’s home, but race is a secondary factor in Naomi Wallace’s look at Depression-era American politics, and an anti-Communist witch-hunt long predating the more famous one in the 1950s. Things of Dry Hours is set in Birmingham, Alabama in 1932, where factory workers are being laid off in large numbers, making the local Communist Party an attractive option, particularly to black workers who are more disenfranchised than most. One of them is Tice Hogan (Jude Akuwudike,) who takes on odd-jobs and teaches Sunday School, but mainly gets by thanks to the money his daughter Cali (Michelle Asante) makes as a washerwoman to the town’s rich. Both widowed, they live together in a tiny shack, where wanted murderer Corbin Teel (Emun Elliott) knocks on the door in the middle of one night in need of a hiding place. They have no intention of risking their lives for a suspicious stranger, but he blackmails them into letting him stay for a week.

Saturday 18 August 2018

Theatre review: Emilia

Like most new Artistic Directors, Michelle Terry's had a mixed first season in charge of the Globe, but one area that for me has seemed an unqualified success has been her approach to gender parity in casting. Although she's stuck to her predecessor's target of 50/50 casting, Terry has amended this to be across an entire season rather than on a production-by-production basis, so directors of individual shows don't feel too restricted by it. One way to make sure a lot of classics dominated by men can be balanced out is by having one production cast entirely with women, and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's specially-commissioned Emilia is no random choice to get this treatment: The story of a possible muse of Shakespeare's bubbles over with anger at the absence of women from Jacobethan theatre, so the way Nicole Charles's production flips the era's all-male casting doesn't feel like meeting a quota, but like an essential part of the play's reclaiming of women's voices.

Thursday 16 August 2018

Theatre review: Othello (Shakespeare's Globe)

For the final major Shakespeare production of Michelle Terry’s first summer season the last actor to serve as Artistic Director of the Globe returns, with a characteristically idiosyncratic take on a classic villain. Director/composer Claire van Kampen has said she wanted her production of Othello to return the play’s focus to its title character; I’m not entirely sure how she thought she’d manage that with her husband, noted scenivore Mark Rylance, as Super Mario Iago. Venetian Ensign Super Mario Iago has a rather vague grudge against his general, Othello (André Holland) and, aided by Roderigo (Steffan Donnelly,) a man with more money than sense and a crush on Othello’s wife, hatches a convoluted plot not to destroy the general, but to make him destroy himself. Central to his scheming is Othello’s new wife Desdemona (Jessica Warbeck,) a younger woman whose father objected to her marrying a black man, no matter how well-regarded a soldier he might be.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Theatre review: Homos, or Everyone in America

A low-key meme in 2018 seems to be gay plays that engage with the legacy of Angels in America; The Inheritance was of course a two-part epic, while one of the characters in Jordan Seavey’s Homos, or Everyone in America refers to living in “a post-gay fantasia,” a nod to the subtitle of Tony Kushner’s play. If Seavey intends to look at as far-reaching an examination of gay identity as those plays, he’s got a much more modest canvas in mind, as his one-act play has four characters, but for the vast majority of its running time is a two-hander. A New York couple known only as The Writer (Harry McEntire) and The Academic (Tyrone Huntley) meet online, fall for each other quickly in real life, have a few happy if combative years together, break up, try to remain friends and, after a brutal reminder that homophobia hasn’t gone away even in an America with equal marriage rights, finally find a relationship that works for them.

Saturday 11 August 2018

Theatre review: Little Shop of Horrors

Last seen in London in 2007, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's Little Shop of Horrors is the Open Air Theatre's main musical offering of this summer, and if it hadn't already been a must-see for me the fact that Maria Aberg is directing definitely would have tipped the scale. And although everything that's fun about the show remains, there's certain directorial touches - and one casting choice in particular - that really make the production feel like it's been looked at with fresh eyes. The 1982 musical is based on a 1960 Roger Corman B-movie, a fact nodded at by Tom Scutt's design making the stage a drive-in cinema; but as the story's set on Skid Row and everything's run down, this drive-in is long-since closed and derelict, everything is grey and lifeless, and the scenery is wheeled on and off stage in shopping trolleys.

Thursday 9 August 2018

Theatre review: Bring It On

Currently in residence at Southwark Playhouse, I’m quite surprised that youth company British Theatre Academy managed to get the rights to Bring It On - given Hamilton fever is still high I would have thought there’d be lots of competition to cash in on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name. Miranda contributes songs alongside Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, with Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty providing the book, based loosely on the 2000 teen comedy. Very loosely – I’m pretty sure in the film Eliza Dushku transferred to Kirsten Dunst’s school rather than the other way round and Phill, who seems to have a worryingly encyclopaedic knowledge of its many straight-to-video sequels, thought some of the plot points might have come from them. Campbell (Robyn McIntyre) has just been made captain of Truman High’s award-winning cheerleading squad, when a rezoning of the school district means she and unpopular student Bridget (Kristine Kruse) have to spend their senior year at the rough Jackson High, which doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad.

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Theatre review: Exit the King

"He thinks he's the first person ever to die."
"Everyone is the first person ever to die."

That’s the exchange at the heart of Exit the King, and the real gut-punch in what is, somehow, the first time the National Theatre has ever staged a play by Eugène Ionesco. King Bérenger (Rhys Ifans) can command the sun to rise and set, win global wars with the force of his will alone, kill anyone who displeases him simply by ordering that their head fall off, and though technically mortal will only die when he chooses. Except suddenly none of this works. Bérenger deciding his own time of death was dependant on him choosing something within an average human lifespan, and at 483 years old the choice has been taken out of his hands. After a three-day illness his nation has shrunk, the army is down to one Guard (Derek Griffiths) who can’t even hear, let alone obey the king’s orders any more, a huge crack has appeared in the palace wall and Mercury has collided with Saturn – but only in the skies above Bérenger’s kingdom. Outside its borders, everything goes on as usual.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Theatre review: £¥€$

After becoming a much-talked about show in Edinburgh and touring the world, Belgian company Ontroerend Goed's £¥€$ (pronounced "Lies") makes it to London for a limited guest run at the Almeida. Ten years on from the 2008 financial crisis there's nothing new about a show inspired by it (most recently The Lehman Trilogy took a very different look at its origins,) and the mechanics of how it became inevitable have been explained before; Ontroerend Goed's twist is to try and make the audience understand how bankers could casually risk the economies of entire nations, by turning global finance into an entertaining casino game. The Almeida's seating has been cleared out, replaced by a dozen tables surrounding the room, with the audience becoming players who are led to their table. If you've come to the theatre with someone else you'll be split up, to ensure you're surrounded by strangers and can't second-guess how they're going to respond.

Thursday 2 August 2018

Theatre review: Home, I'm Darling

Laura Wade’s new play opens with a cheesy domestic scene straight out of a 1950s sitcom, as perfectly-coiffed housewife Judy (Future Dame Katherine Parkinson) floats around her kitchen making breakfast for her estate agent husband Johnny (Richard Harrington,) making sure he’s got everything ready so he’s not late for work. But before she can get on with the cleaning and tidying she needs to look up a couple of housekeeping tips on the internet, because Home, I’m Darling takes place in the present day. Having met through their shared love of all things ‘50s, the couple have decked out their house in authentic period designs and goods – even if that means a fridge that only works when it feels like it – decanting all their groceries into period-appropriate containers and, when Judy was made redundant three years ago, decided to take the experiment further by living their daily lives as if it was sixty years earlier, right down to the traditional gender roles.